AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND DISEASE REGISTRY

Chronic condition

A chronic condition is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects or a disease that comes with time. The term chronic is often applied when the course of the disease lasts for more than three months. Common chronic diseases include arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and some viral diseases such as hepatitis C and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. An illness which is lifelong because it ends in death is a terminal illness. It is possible and not unexpected for an illness to change in definition from terminal to chronic. Diabetes and HIV for example were once terminal yet are now considered chronic due to the availability of insulin and daily drug treatment for individuals with HIV which allow these individuals to live while managing symptoms.

While risk factors vary with age and gender, most of the common chronic diseases in the US are caused by dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors that are also responsible for the resulting mortality. Therefore, these conditions might be prevented by behavioral changes, such as quitting smoking, adopting a healthy diet, and increasing physical activity. Social determinants are important risk factors for chronic diseases. Social factors, e.g., socioeconomic status, education level, and race/ethnicity, are a major cause for the disparities observed in the care of chronic disease. Lack of access and delay in receiving care result in worse outcomes for patients from minorities and underserved populations. Those barriers to medical care complicate patients monitoring and continuity in treatment.

A growing body of evidence supports that prevention is effective in reducing the effect of chronic conditions; in particular, early detection results in less severe outcomes. Clinical preventive services include screening for the existence of the disease or predisposition to its development, counseling and immunizations against infectious agents. Despite their effectiveness, the utilization of preventive services is typically lower than for regular medical services. In contrast to their apparent cost in time and money, the benefits of preventive services are not directly perceived by patient because their effects are on the long term or might be greater for society as a whole than at the individual level.

Some epidemiology of chronic disease can apply to multiple diagnosis. Obesity and body fat distribution for example contribute and are risk factors for many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart, and kidney disease. Other epidemiological factors, such as social, socioeconomic, and environment do not have a straightforward cause and effect relationship with chronic disease diagnosis. While typically higher socioeconomic status is correlated with lower occurrence of chronic disease, it is not known is there is a direct cause and effect relationship between these two variables.

According to research by the CDC, chronic disease is also especially a concern in the elderly population in America. Chronic diseases like stroke, heart disease, and cancer were among the leading causes of death among Americans aged 65 or older in 2002, accounting for 61% of all deaths among this subset of the population. It is estimated that at least 80% of older Americans are currently living with some form of a chronic condition, with 50% of this population having two or more chronic conditions. The two most common chronic conditions in the elderly are high blood pressure and arthritis, with diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer also being reported among the elder population.

In addition to direct costs in health care, chronic diseases are a significant burden to the economy, through limitations in daily activities, loss in productivity and loss of days of work. A particular concern is the rising rates of overweight and obesity in all segments of the US population. Obesity itself is a medical condition and not a disease, but it constitutes a major risk factor for developing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and cancers. Obesity results in significant health care spending and indirect costs, as illustrated by a recent study from the Texas comptroller reporting that obesity alone cost Texas businesses an extra $9.5 billion in 2009, including more than $4 billion for health care, $5 billion for lost productivity and absenteeism, and $321 million for disability.

Gender influences how chronic disease is viewed and treated in society. Women's chronic health issues are often considered to be most worthy of treatment, or most severe when the chronic condition interferes with a woman's fertility. Historically, there is less of a focus on a woman's chronic conditions when it interferes with other aspects of her life or well being. Many women report feeling less than or even ˝half of a woman˛ due to the pressures that society puts on the importance of fertility and health when it comes to typically feminine ideals. These kinds of social barriers interfere with women's ability to perform various other activities in life and fully work toward their aspirations.