Chronic Illness: Definition, Effects & Management

Instructor: Kimberly Carpenter

Kimberly has an undergraduate degree in Lab Sciences and a Master's degree in Education.

This lesson will provide a definition for chronic illnesses. Also, it will describe the effects of chronic illnesses and ways in which to properly manage these illnesses to live a better quality of life. A short quiz will follow.

Definition of Chronic Illness

There are millions of individuals who experience illnesses on a daily basis. For some of these people, the illnesses are short-lived and will permanently go away with treatment or therapy. However, if you are someone who suffers from a chronic illness, you are continually faced with a long-term condition that has the ability to be treated but never cured.

Examples of these conditions are heart conditions, diabetes, mental health problems, neurological disorders, muscular and/or skeletal disorders, asthma, and respiratory disorders. While this is by no means a complete list, these are some of the most common chronic illnesses suffered by individuals today. Although these conditions are some of the most-treated illnesses today, none of the conditions mentioned can be cured at the present time.

Mental Health

A few characteristics separate chronic illnesses from other disorders, yet it is important to remember that not every person will experience every characteristic. Some of the common characteristics of chronic illnesses are:

  • A gradual onset of the illness
  • An increase in the frequency of illness as you become older
  • The ability of the illness to affect multiple organs simultaneously, which potentially leads to secondary problems
  • A decrease in the quality of your life because of the illness
  • Costly treatment and/or therapy for the illness

Effects of Chronic Illness

Depending on the type and severity of a chronic illness, there is a potential for these conditions to affect every aspect of your lifestyle. This aspect of a chronic illness is quite disheartening to many individuals, and a large number of people who suffer from chronic illnesses also develop depression as time passes. Depression is actually a common complication of chronic illnesses and has been estimated to affect up to 33% of the population.

Many times a lack of self-confidence will be a problem if you are suffering from a chronic illness because of the symptoms and the fact that you may not always know exactly when the worst effects from the illness will be felt. For example, if you suffer from multiple sclerosis, there can be a long break between the first occurrence of the illness and subsequent episodes. Despite this fact, you may not feel as confident overall due to the fact that you know what multiple sclerosis is capable of doing to your individual body and nervous system. You are the person who experiences the pain of the multiple sclerosis episodes and you are the person who must continue life on a daily basis until the illness can be treated effectively enough to subside again. Over the course of time, this will often cause problems with a person's self-confidence because the person always knows the condition has the ability to 'rear its ugly head' at what can be the worst possible times.


A chronic illness will also have potential effects on relationships between you and your friends or family members. This is because there are times when some individuals who have a chronic illness are forced to rely on others for support, and it often leaves the person feeling as if he cannot succeed on his own. There is a lack of feeling independent and this can cause the person suffering from a chronic illness to harbor feelings of bitterness or resentment. It is important to ensure you are handling everything you are capable of whenever possible so that you have a feeling of independence. This can greatly help with the bitterness and resentment during those times when you must rely on others for support.

Management of Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is a condition managed differently than other illnesses or disorders. That is because a chronic illness will never completely be cured. Depending on the type of illness, there are various treatment options available to fight the illness and help you return to your optimal level of health.

With that being said, however, it is important to remember these options are only capable of treating the illness and not eliminating it entirely. The person suffering from a chronic illness has the responsibility of following the medical advice of his physician or health care professional if he wishes to remain healthy.

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