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Common Conditions That Cause Disability continued...

Diabetes is a costly disease to manage, too, in part because of the drugs and supplies.

Nervous system disorders. These include a number of conditions that affect the brain or nerves, such as:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer's disease

MS is a leading cause of disability in young adults. It most often appears between ages 20 and 40.

Pregnancy. You might not think about pregnancy as a disabling condition. Since most women in the U.S. don't get paid maternity leave, it effectively is.

The Family and Medical Leave Act offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, it isn't available to many women who:

  • Are self-employed
  • Work at small businesses
  • Haven't worked long enough with an employer to be eligible

Some employers and a few states offer women short-term disability payments for pregnancy. The rest have to get by using sick days and vacation.

Long-term disability caused by pregnancy is relatively rare. Women who wind up needing bed rest while they're pregnant or who suffer from complications afterward -- like postpartum depression -- can face serious financial stress.

Accidents. Many people assume accidents are the most likely cause of disability. But they are actually the cause of less than 10% of disability cases.

Protecting Yourself From the Medical Costs of Disability

What can you do to guard against the risks of disability and high medical bills? Here are some tips from the experts.

Go over your health insurance policy. Don't just assume your coverage is good. Read the booklet your insurer sends. Ask your benefits advisor at work if you have questions.

Settling health insurance issues is important before you get sick. The health care reform law will prohibit insurers from denying people coverage because of preexisting conditions. But it won't take effect for adults until 2014.

Get disability insurance. See if you can get it through work. You should purchase it as soon as possible. Trying to get disability insurance when you're older -- or diagnosed with a health problem -- is a lot more difficult.