15 Diseases That Slowly Cripple You Over Time

Science and medicine have come a long way since the days of elixirs and bloodletting. But some diseases still baffle scientists and make it difficult for sufferers to live normal lives. These 15 diseases will slowly cripple you over time; one may make you rethink the meaning of a disability (page 10).

1. Alzheimer’s disease

A senior woman with Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s affects millions of Americans. | Westend61/Getty Images

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, but Alzheimer’s disease is not. The sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., this progressive disease lacks a cure. Early symptoms include mild memory loss, so a person may think they’re just forgetful. Over time, however, Alzheimer’s takes away all memories, causing fear, confusion, and an inability to function. Children become strangers, and even language can be lost forever.

Next: You probably never heard of this one.

2. Dupuytren disease

Dupuytren's disease
A patient affected by Dupuytren’s disease | BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Most people haven’t heard of this hereditary condition that causes scar tissue to form within the palms. Over time, affected hands will tighten. Patients struggle to do normal tasks like wash their face, shake hands, or grasp properly. In advanced stages, they can’t straighten their fingers, and some people require finger amputation. Although less common, the feet, shoulders, and penis can also be affected by Dupuytren disease.

Next: This disease takes away your control.

3. Lou Gehrig’s disease

Lou Gehrig's disease
A boy with Lou Gehrig’s disease | ChiccoDodiFC

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disrupts communication between the brain and muscles. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it affects voluntary movement, causing muscle weakening and twitching. Over time, the arms, legs, and body became unable to move at all. If ALS affects the muscles in the respiratory system or chest, it can be fatal.

Next: We don’t know what causes it.

4. Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson's disease
Woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease | Daisy-Daisy/Getty Images

People with this brain disorder have trouble controlling movements, which worsens over time. Medications can slow the onset of symptoms. Most people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s at around the age of 50. However, it can develop sooner. Actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at 30 years old. He’s helped put a face to Parkinson’s and raised a lot of money to find for a cure.

Next: Use a strong bug repellent for prevention.

5. Lyme disease

Lyme disease from a black-legged tick
A black-legged tick | tuzyra/Getty Images

This condition is caused by a bite from a black-legged tick infected with bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. If caught in the first two weeks, antibiotics can treat Lyme disease. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the brain, joints, and heart.

Many people with chronic Lyme disease complain of pain and swelling in their knees. Other complications include drooping facial muscles, swelling of the brain and spinal cord, and severe headaches and neck stiffness.

Next: Women are more likely than men to have this one.

6. Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis
A nurse visits someone with multiple sclerosis. | BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Occurring in women more than men, multiple sclerosis affects the body’s central nervous system. The extensive nerve damage from this crippling autoimmune disease can cause muscle spasms, difficulty moving limbs, bowel and bladder problems, vision loss, dizziness, slurred speech, and trouble swallowing.

Next: This disease had a low average lifespan.

7. Cystic fibrosis

London Marathon - Charity Cystic Fibrosis participates
Charity Cystic Fibrosis participating in the 2019 London Marathon. | Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images

This disease creates a thick phlegm-like mucous that coats the lungs and pancreas, affecting breathing and digestion. If cystic fibrosis is caught early, a treatment plan can improve the survival rate and lessen symptoms. Even with treatment, those with this disease have an average lifespan of only 37 years. Children with cystic fibrosis can often complete high school or college before it interrupts their daily lives too much.

Next: This prevalent disease can be controversial.

8. Diabetes

Diabetic person tests blood sugar levels.
A diabetic person tests blood sugar levels. | Alex Flynn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Many people may not consider this a “crippling” disease. However, diabetics still use the same treatments that have been around for decades. Whether a person has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there is no cure and they share the same risks: blindness, limb amputation, severe neuropathy, cardiovascular disease, coma, multi-organ failure, and death.

When the body can’t recognize or utilize sugar — its main form of energy — food can become lethal. By 2050, the CDC estimates that one-third of Americans will have diabetes.

Next: A common symptom looks like a mask.

9. Scleroderma

Dupuytren disease
A hand shows Dupuytren disease | Barb Elkin/Getty Images

This autoimmune disease affects connective tissue, causing changes in skin, blood vessels, organs, and muscles. Scleroderma occurs either on the skin or internally in the body. Once the disease starts its slow progression, tissue begins to thicken, darken, and harden. It can create a mask-like look on the face. If scleroderma reaches the internal organs, they begin to fail.

The cause of this disease is unknown, and there’s no way to prevent it. Unfortunately, the mortality rate is high for people with this diagnosis.

Next: This one deserves to be on this list.

10. Schizophrenia

A diagnosis of schizophrenia is extremely difficult. | Westend61/Getty Images

You may wonder why schizophrenia made the list of crippling conditions. Well, this mental health condition makes it nearly impossible for a person to live a normal life. They experience hallucinations and struggle to recognize reality. In many cases, the patient can’t interact meaningfully with others. Some spend their life in monitored isolation.

Next: If this won’t make you quit, nothing will.

11. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Lung damage is serious. | BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease find it increasingly difficult to breathe due to irreversible lung damage, often caused by smoking or chemical exposure. Someone with COPD may also develop chronic bronchitis and emphysema. While drugs and treatment help slow the progression of this debilitating and deadly disease, it will continue to worsen over time.

Next: This disease starts from an injury.

12. Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy
Child using a walker | sweetmonster/Getty Images

Caused by an injury to an immature brain often before birth or in infancy, cerebral palsy affects movement, muscle tone, and posture. Patients can have mild or severe symptoms of weakness such as floppiness, rigidity, and involuntary movements. Some also have problems hearing, seeing, and learning. Over time muscle shortening can cause additional problems and neurological symptoms.

Next: When the body attacks itself.

13. Rheumatoid arthritis

A Senior Man with Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis changes the way you move. | Daisy-Daisy/Getty Images

The 1.5 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis have an autoimmune disease. The body is essentially attacking the joints. This causes pain, excessive inflammation, and eventually crippling disability. While new treatments help with flare-ups, rheumatoid arthritis will only get worse. There is no cure, but the disease collects a lot of money for research.

Next: This crippling disease is preventable.

14. Poliomyelitis

polio vaccination
Getting a polio vaccination | O_Lypa/Getty Images

Many doctors think poliomyelitis is cured in the U.S. due to immunization efforts. However, some fear polio could come back due to the number of people refusing immunizations. Some countries still have polio outbreaks. The disease starts with a fever, stiff neck, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and limb pain. In some cases, the patient develops irreversible paralysis. Prevention is the only cure.

Next: This disease starts with frequent falls.

15. Muscular dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy
A woman in a wheelchair | Westend61/Getty Images

All types of muscular dystrophy start with the same problem: a mutation in the genes that produce proteins. Muscles need protein to grow and heal. But those with MD lose muscle tone over time. The disease begins with frequent falling, weakness, and muscle pain and stiffness. Over time, the patient becomes crippled and has trouble breathing and swallowing.