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Primary care practitioners play a pivotal role in health care, tasked with diagnosing and treating an array of common health conditions each day. But when it comes to the most common health condition they treat, it can be hard to provide a definite ranking. From the common cold to Type 2 diabetes, health problems vary across people of different backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic statuses and medical histories – and circulating viruses and diseases pose varying threats at different times.

While acknowledging that individual assessments are essential for diagnosing a condition and establishing a proactive treatment plan, here are ten of the most common conditions doctors encounter.


More than 200 million viral agents are known to infect humans, so it goes without saying that viruses are among the most common health conditions. Also due to the high number of viruses that circulate, the most common viruses change over time.

With recent occurrences of hand, foot and mouth disease, most commonly caused by the coxsackievirus, doctors have been “seeing a really interesting pattern of viral infections popping up,” says Dr. Ali Khan, a primary care doctor and the chief medical officer of Value-Based Care Strategy at Oak Street Health in Chicago.

Sometimes doctors prescribe patients medication to treat viruses – like using Paxlovid to treat COVID – and, sometimes, virus recovery is a waiting game.

Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine doctor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says he prefers to gear away from using prescriptions and medications which might have adverse effects when treating viruses. Instead, he prefers to prioritize easing pain or discomfort from symptoms, while helping the patient “recognize that these illnesses tend to just run their course.”

Respiratory Infections 

In the U.S., respiratory infections impact tens of millions of people each year. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria and can impact people’s throat, sinuses, lungs and airways, often interfering with functions like breathing or swallowing and producing systemic symptoms like fevers or muscle aches.

Commonly occurring respiratory infections include COVID, pneumonia, strep throat and the common cold – which can be caused by a variety of viruses. Mild respiratory infections typically resolve on their own within a week or two. However, the severity of the infection and someone's overall health can play a significant role in determining whether further medical intervention is necessary.

Because this is such a broad category, Cutler says diagnosing a specific respiratory infection can include assessing symptoms, talking to patients or in some cases – like for COVID – using diagnostic testing.

Especially with COVID, changing variants cause the virus to act like a “chameleon,” and doctors need to pay extra attention when making a diagnosis, Cutler adds. A silver lining is that “now, most people who come in with respiratory infections have something other than COVID.”


More than 40% of people in the U.S. have obesity, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in recent years, those numbers have been on the rise, says Dr. Jose Mayorga, the executive director at UCI Health Family Health Centers in Orange County, California.

Obesity is a complex medical condition characterized by excessive fat accumulation and a body mass index, or BMI, of more than 30. Obesity can make people vulnerable to other health issues and increase their risk for developing conditions like hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol – rates of which have also been on the rise in the U.S., Mayorga adds.

Managing obesity through a combination of nutritional interventions – such as reducing overall calorie intake and/or increasing reliance on fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and exercise – like increasing physical activity to 150 minutes a week for adults – can help improve health outcomes. Additionally, breastfeeding babies may reduce their risks for developing obesity late in life, according to the World Health Organization.

High Cholesterol

In the U.S., about 7% of children ages 6 to 19 and 11.5% of adults age 20 and older have high total cholesterol, according to the CDC. There are no hallmark symptoms of high cholesterol, so the condition can sneak up silently, Mayorga says.

“Many individuals can go years without knowing they have it, which can cause irreversible damage to the body,” Mayorga adds. “This is why it’s important to have a primary care doctor who can screen you for cholesterol periodically, prescribe medication and provide guidance on healthy living."

A normal total cholesterol reading is under 200 mg/dL. High cholesterol is diagnosed if someone’s total cholesterol reading is 200 mg/dL or higher, according to the CDC. But many providers characterize a total cholesterol reading of 200 to 239 as borderline high and a reading of 240 and up as high.

Your total cholesterol reading is a sum of two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol (plus some triglycerides, which is a type of fat in the blood):

  • High-density lipoprotein, or HDL. The first, HDL, is considered "good" cholesterol. (To remember, you could think of the "H" as standing for "healthy," or "helpful.") A healthy level for HDL cholesterol is typically around or above 60, but anywhere from 35 to 80 can be normal for adults.
  • Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. The second, LDL, is what we think of as "bad" cholesterol. Optimal levels for this are below 129, or even better, below 100.

People with high total cholesterol have a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the CDC.


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects almost 50% of adults in the U.S., according to the CDC. Lifestyle factors, age and personal and family health history can all impact a person’s risk for developing hypertension.

Like high cholesterol, hypertension may cause few to no symptoms. It's diagnosed by two or more blood pressure readings of a number at or higher than 130/80. A normal blood pressure range is any number lower than 120/80 mmHg and higher than 90/60. The upper number is your systolic blood pressure, which represents how much pressure your blood is placing on the artery walls when the heart contracts. The lower number is your diastolic number, which represents how much pressure your blood is placing on the artery walls when the heart rests between contractions.

Like high total cholesterol, hypertension can be associated with other common health conditions, like obesity or diabetes. People with undiagnosed hypertension also can be at risk for serious conditions like stroke, heart attack or vision problems.

Type 2 Diabetes

More than one in 10 Americans have diabetes, with more than 90% of cases classified as Type 2, according to the CDC. Further, about 96 million American adults have prediabetes, which is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes that can be reversed.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps cells regulate blood sugar levels in the body. Insulin resistance occurs when cells don’t respond normally to insulin and therefore, blood sugar isn't properly regulated. Typically what happens is that because cells aren't recognizing insulin, the pancreas then overproduces the hormone and, as a result, blood sugar levels rise.

Diagnosing diabetes and prediabetes involves blood tests to assess blood sugar levels. One of the tests used to diagnose diabetes is an AC1 test, which measures blood sugar levels. A test result of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes, while a result between 5.7% and 6.4% indicates prediabetes. A result lower than 5.7% is considered normal.

People with prediabetes can take similar lifestyle or medical interventions, depending on their doctor's recommendation, to reverse the condition and prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD refers to a group of diseases of the lungs that impact a person's ability to breathe properly, or indicate a blocked airway. This includes emphysema – a disease that gradually destructs the lung tissue, causing shortness of breath, breathing problems and prevents oxygen from entering the bloodstream – and chronic bronchitis, which refers to long term inflammation of the bronchi, or the airway of the lungs. COPD can be life-threatening.

Conditions can develop over time and can be caused by or aggravated by several factors, including:

  • Tobacco smoking.
  • Genetics.
  • Exposure to air pollution.
  • History of respiratory infections.

COPD is diagnosed through a spirometry test, which is a common breathing test that assesses lung function. The test involves a spirometry machine, which looks a bit like a large inhaler, and a mouthpiece. The test-taker breathes into the mouth piece and the machine assesses how much air is breathed in and out and at what speed.
COPD can have a major impact on someone's health and quality of life, including impaired breathing, decreased ability to participate in athletic endeavors or movements like climbing stairs, and impacted mental health. COPD can also put people at risk for other life-threatening conditions like stroke, heart disease and heart failure.

While it cannot be cured, COPD can be managed by interventions like quitting smoking, avoiding poor air quality areas or using prescription medication or inhalers.


Allergies impact more than 50 million Americans each year. They can occur seasonally or perennially and strike at all ages.

  • Runny nose.
  • Sneezing.
  • Itchy eyes.
  • Rashes.
  • Breathing issues.

Allergies can be diagnosed through symptoms or skin-contact testing, which is often used for food allergies. Many types of allergies co-occur with or trigger asthma, which is also considered an allergic disease. Severe allergic reactions can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock and/or impair a person’s ability to breathe. People with allergies may need to avoid contact with any known allergens or use a prescribed inhaler or EpiPen.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Between 60 to 70 million Americans struggle with gastrointestinal diseases. These include a range of health conditions like gastritis, GERD and irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

GI conditions impact the digestive system and can include problems with the esophagus, stomach lining or bowels. Common symptoms of GI conditions include:

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are also common health conditions in the U.S. Often undiagnosed, mental health conditions can coexist with or aggravate physical health conditions too.

For example, for some people, GI issues are provoked or influenced by mental health conditions, says Johannes Uys, a general practitioner working at Broadgate General Practice in London.

Khan says that doctors and researchers have known for a long time that “under-recognized mental health issues like depression or anxiety have a real interplay” with how well people can manage conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. For example, stress and anxiety can elevate heart rate or blood pressure levels, while low energy from depression can deter someone from seeking medical attention or keeping up with disease treatment and prevention.

Mainstream health care is beginning to understand how the two – physical and mental health conditions – can be treated in tandem, Uys adds.

Detecting a New Diagnosis

Prioritizing overall health and well-being through regular physical activity, balanced nutrition, stress management, keeping up with routine vaccinations and regular visits to the doctor can help you stay away from or stay on top of conditions that may arise. For people already diagnosed with a condition, it's important to stay on top of any prescribed treatment or lifestyle recommendations to manage or heal from their diagnosis.

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