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What is chronic illness?

A chronic illness is one that last for a long time. An arbitrary number of 3 months is usually used to define a chronic illness. It is also one that cannot be cured via medications, though can be controlled via medications and other life style interventions. The illness often impacts on a person’s wellbeing financially, socially and physically.

How common is chronic illness?

Chronic illness is increasing common due to increasing age and better diagnostics. Nearly 90% of people over the age 65 years will have a chronic illness of some sort. There are a large number of behaviours that increase the risk of developing a chronic illness such as smoking, alcohol use, lack of exercise, diet and obesity.

What is chronic illness typified by?

The cause of several chronic illness are usually very complex, with many risk factors, including poor health choices and genetics. They illness can take a long time to develop and then last for a long time with periods of no decline or rapid decline. There is often long term physical or mental dysfunction.

What are some chronic illnesses?

The top 8 in Australia are: arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and diabetes.

Within the above the following amongst and others are:

  • Asthma
  • Bipolar mood disease
  • Brochiectasis
  • Cardiac failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes insipidus
  • Diabetes mellitus (type 1 and type 2)
  • Dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Haemophilia
  • HIV
  • Hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Hypothyroidism (inactive thyroid gland)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Systemic lupus erythematosis
  • Ulcerative colitis

Can I be cured of my chronic illness?

By definition, at this point in time, chronic illnesses are not curable. They can however be managed in in some cases the progression of the illness slowed. This may require intensive management by the person with the illness and their team of health professionals. Interventions may include, medications, exercise programs, diet advice and cognitive behaviour therapies.

Who can help me?

Your general practitioner should be the first person who you discuss your concerns with. They should at as a “conductor” to the orchestra of people who will be assisting you. The team may include medical specialists, allied health people such as physiotherapist, dieticians, pharmacists and psychologists.

There will be a number of others who will claim to be of assistance with miracle cures that your doctors “won’t tell you about” or “don’t know about”. Another statement is your mainstream health providers are “taught about this” or do not treat you holistically. Please discuss other treatment you may be considering with your treating general practitioner first as many other treatments can be harmful to you and may interfere and cause unforeseen issues when the interact with the prescribed treatment.

What are the ways to cope with chronic illness?

It can be very stressful and lonely when addressing chronic illness. Ways to help are:

  • Learning as much as you can about your issue
  • Being proactive in your treatment
  • Join a local support group for your condition
  • Develop a plan with goals to assist in maintain control
  • Plan for the future

The overall aim of these strategies is to help put your illness into context and give some meaning to what is happening.