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The impacts of chronic illness on a person can be complex and varied.

Living with chronic illness

Chronic illness is increasing in all countries and comes at significant human, social and economic cost.

A chronic illness is an illness that is long term with persistent effects that impact on a person’s quality of life with human, social and financial consequences for the individual and their family (AIHW, 2011; WHO, 2014).

Diabetes is one of a number of common chronic conditions that include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease, longer-term mental heath conditions, respiratory diseases (such as asthma) and musculoskeletal conditions (including arthritis).


While there are differences in the types and severity of chronic illness, they do share some similar characteristics. These include:

  • being persistent over a long period of time
  • cycles of long periods of stability and relative wellness
  • not able to be completely cured
  • requiring some form of ongoing management, including medications and/or modifications to lifestyle and daily activities.


Chronic illness can be complex and varied, and range from mild conditions such as short-sightedness or minor hearing loss, to more debilitating conditions such as arthritis or back pain, and life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and cancer (Australian Government Department of Health, 2015).

Chronic illness can occur at any time across a person’s life, although it is more prevalent at an older age, often leading to other conditions, decline in function and even premature death. People with chronic illness often have periods when the symptoms and effects of their condition are stable, while, at other times, they are unstable or worsen and require different or a higher level of intervention.


In 2011, 90% of all deaths in Australia were accounted for by chronic illness (Australian Government Department of Health, 2015). The increased prevalence of chronic illness has been attributed to:

  • early detection
  • improved treatments of diseases that previously caused premature death
  • lifestyle factors (smoking and poor diet).

In response to this, governments and healthcare organisations all over the world are developing policies and strategies to tackle the increase in chronic illness. Meanwhile, health professionals as well as individuals and their families and/or carers require new knowledge, understanding and approaches to manage chronic illness.

Your task

Read pages 13–19 of the executive summary of the ‘Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases’. Examine the ‘Global Targets’ and ‘Messages’ listed there and reflect on how these may apply to your culture/country.

Share your ideas in the Comments.


Australian Government Department of Health. (2015). Chronic disease. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/chronic-disease
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). Chronic diseases. Retrieved from http://www.aihw.gov.au/chronic-diseases/
Conrad, P., & Barker, K. K. (2010). The social construction of illness: Key insights and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51 Suppl, S67–S79).
World Health Organization. (2014). Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases 2014. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/148114/1/9789241564854_eng.pdf?ua=1

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This article is from the free online course:

Living Well with Diabetes

Deakin University