Chronic illnesses are different from illnesses such as flu or chicken pox, where a person becomes sick for a short time and then returns to health. These short-term illnesses are called acute illnesses. Unlike people with acute illnesses, people with chronic illnesses usually don't return to completely normal health. The illness does not go away, even when the symptoms are controlled.
There are many types of illnesses that are chronic, each with its own symptoms, causes, and course of progress/treatment. Some chronic illnesses affect people of any age or ethnic background, while others are more likely to appear in a particular age or ethnic group. Some chronic illnesses are present at birth, while others develop later in life. Chronic illnesses are sometimes inherited. Diseases that are inherited develop because a person has certain genes, the material in the body that helps determine physical and mental characteristics, such as hair and eye color. An example of an inherited chronic illness is sickle-cell anemia. This disease affects the blood's ability to carry oxygen through the body. Sickle-cell anemia is more likely to occur in people of African descent who carry the gene for the disease. Sometimes the symptoms of inherited chronic illnesses appear early in childhood. At other times, symptoms of an inherited chronic illness do not show up until much later in life.
Some chronic illnesses may be caused by environmental factors such as exposure to pollutants. Coal miners may breathe so much coal dust in the air that they begin to show symptoms of a chronic lung disorder called black lung disease. Bacteria or viruses also can cause chronic illnesses. For example, Lyme disease, a bacterial disease spread by the bite of ticks, causes an acute flulike illness at first, but it also can cause long-term joint, heart, and nervous system problems that may not show up for months or years. Some chronic illnesses are progressive. Progressive illnesses such as muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis , Parkinson disease , or Alzheimer disease, can get worse as time passes.
When doctors diagnose a chronic illness, they also recommend treatments that can relieve symptoms or keep the body functioning at its healthiest. Sometimes treatments involve medications the doctor will prescribe. Sometimes managing the illness also will depend on things the ill person can do to remain as healthy as possible, such as making changes in diet, quitting smoking, or exercising more. People with chronic illness seem to do best when they work as partners with their medical practitioners to take an active role in caring for their health.
The symptoms of many chronic illnesses can be controlled with medication or changes in diet and activity. For example, people with diabetes are unable to process sugars properly for use by the body. By taking insulin or other medications and by eating properly, people with diabetes can lead very active, normal lives.
Some people with chronic illnesses have symptoms that appear only under certain conditions. For example, some people with asthma, a chronic illness that affects the lungs, may experience difficulty breathing only when they exercise, breathe in pollutants, or are under stress. Others with asthma may need to take medications or use inhalers daily to prevent wheezing. When the symptoms of a chronic illness are not present or are minimal, the illness is said to be in remission. Having an illness that is in remission is not the same as being cured, because the disease that causes the illness is still present.
Accepting that one must live with the limitations of a chronic illness can be emotionally difficult. How people react to the diagnosis of a chronic illness and how they cope depend partly on the nature of the illness, and the age and resilience of the person. The changes they believe the illness will make in their lives, and how the illness will change their family and social support, also influence how people cope. Many people go through a process of grieving for the health and freedom of activity that they have lost. They may pass through stages of denial, anger, depression, and worry when they find out that they have a chronic disease.
Self-image and self-esteem may suffer when a person must cope with a chronic illness, especially if that illness is painful or imposes limitations that interfere with social activities, school, or work. Chronic illness may be difficult for other family members, who frequently must take on additional responsibilities at home. Many chronic illnesses may get better or go into remission, only to reappear unexpectedly, sometimes with worse symptoms. Uncertainty about the course of the illness can be stressful. This uncertainty also may make planning for vacations or special activities difficult. Many people with chronic illness, even children, cope well with their condition and find ways of adjusting to their disease and leading full and meaningful lives.
Although scientific medicine has made progress in treating and managing chronic illnesses, there is little hope that medical interventions will completely eradicate these illnesses. Moreover, with the growing elderly population, the prevalence of chronic conditions, the proliferation of medical technologies, and the expectation of virtually unlimited access to medical care has placed severe strains on the health care systems of developed countries. As a result, health authorities are now emphasizing preventive care, healthy lifestyles (e.g., dietary changes, stress reduction, and exercise) as the key to preventing chronic illness, and patients are relying on a broader range healing options such as herbal therapies, acupuncture, and massages.
Some people have found that complementary and alternative treatments can be extremely effective in either helping to treat the symptoms of a chronic illness and/or in limiting the progression of that chronic illness, or in enabling the person with a chronic illness to live as healthy and full a life as possible. Many people with chronic illnesses try a wide variety of complementary and alternative remedies, and it can often be challenging for these people to find what modalities may be effective for them, and which practitioners they can work with effectively.
Below you can find a variety of articles related to chronic illness and/or chronic pain, including some examples of treatments that have worked in particular situations. A variety of the practitioners on VitalityLink.com specialize in helping people who have chronic pain or illness; sometimes because they themselves have a similar condition, other times because they have found that there modality can be particularly effective in areas where conventional medicine may not be as effective as we might wish. In an ideal situation, the conventional practitioners and the complementary and alternative practitioners will work together with the patient to ensure that the chronic pain or illness has as little effect on the patient's quality of life as possible, and to help those people find the means that will still allow them to live a full and fulfilling life.