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Managing Chronicity: Navigating Life with Chronic Health Conditions

If you get a broken bone or have to deal with a burst appendix, it’s a pretty big deal. But you can get through it. You go to the doctor and have it treated. And then you’re back to normal, right? But with a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, you don’t have that same kind of quick fix. These conditions usually last a lifetime and can cause you to be constantly responding to its symptoms or problems, often limiting your activity or quality of life.

How the word chronic is defined varies depending on who you talk to and what data is being used. For example, in the academic literature, some researchers use the term to refer to conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living. Others use the term to include all conditions lasting more than 3 months. Still others use it to describe conditions that cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured with medication.

The most common¬†Chronic Health Conditions are heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. These diseases are leading causes of death and disability in the United States and also are major drivers of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs. Other important risk factors for chronic disease are tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium and saturated fats, and physical inactivity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018d; Perrin, Bloom, and Gortmaker, 2007).

In general, a health condition is considered to be chronic if it persists or recurs over time. The term is most commonly applied to diseases and conditions that are not cured with medical treatment (such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, and arthritis). However, some health professionals also include mental illnesses and oral diseases in the chronic category.

People who have chronic conditions are at higher risk for developing other diseases and for having more serious medical complications than people without these health conditions. For some, these risks are due to lifestyle factors and for others they may be related to age, genes, or environmental factors (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).

It’s estimated that between 95 percent and 99 percent of the care given for chronic illness is provided by patients on a day-to-day basis, so it’s up to you to manage your condition. You can do this by asking your doctor for a Chronic Disease Management (CDM) plan. This is a plan that helps you take charge of managing your condition and working toward your goals.

You can also help yourself by eating well, getting plenty of rest, and trying to do as much physical activity as your condition allows. You can also get help from a therapist or other health professional who specializes in your condition. For instance, you can work with a physiotherapist to learn exercises that can help you control your pain or with a dietitian to develop a healthier eating plan.


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