Chronically ill or disabled patient with chronic illness or disability.

What is a Chronic Illness?

Many of us have or know someone with a chronic illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, 6 out of 10 American adults have a chronic illness, while 4 out of every 10 have two or more of these conditions. 

That’s a lot of people – but what exactly qualifies as a chronic illness?

Understanding What a Chronic Illness Is – and Is Not

According to WebMD, a chronic illness can be defined as a “condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely”. Importantly, the website does underscore the fact that many of these conditions can be managed with lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments. 

Some chronic illnesses can also go into remission, leaving patients with relatively few symptoms for periods of time.

Generally, chronic illnesses follow a certain pattern of characteristics. These include:

  • A complex cause that cannot be easily pinpointed or defined.
  • Multiple risk factors or potential contributing factors.
  • An impairment of function or degree of disability or disruption to everyday life.

Chronic illness is also generally not easy to treat and may or may not be curable. Working with a medical professional or care team is generally required to manage symptoms properly. 

Chronically ill and disabled woman in wheelchair. - The Whole Spoon Drawer Chronic Illness and Disability Blog
Chronic illness and disability look different for every person.

Examples of Chronic Illnesses

When we think of chronic illness, most of us tend to think of autoimmune diseases like lupus, painful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, or potentially fatal diseases like many types of cancer

The truth is, there are many chronic illnesses. Each comes with its own unique symptoms, challenges, and treatment approaches.

Here are some of the many chronic illnesses that you might encounter as you meet other people in the disabled and chronically ill community:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Arthritis, including Osteoarthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Chronic Lung Disease
  • Chronic Pain
  • COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Depression, Anxiety, & Other Mental Illnesses
  • Diabetes
  • Eczema
  • Endometriosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hashimoto’s Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure & High Cholesterol
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Lupus
  • Migraines
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Neuropathy & Neuralgia
  • Scoliosis
  • Stroke (Risk and recovery)

The variance in just this list is astounding, given how differently many of these conditions can impact sufferers! 

Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list. Many rare diseases are actually chronic illnesses and will hopefully soon have more options for treatment available.

Embracing Your Fellow Spoonies

If you have a chronic illness, you probably already know it. However, it can be difficult to know what others are dealing with, especially since many of these diseases are so-called “invisible illnesses” or are not thought of as “severe enough” to be chronic illnesses or disabilities.

The thing is, all people who suffer from chronic illness – whether their symptoms are visible or considered impairing or not – have certain, unpleasant things in common. We are all struggling to live a life that is as close to normal as possible while dealing with symptoms that are difficult for other people to even understand. 

Some people mistakenly believe that conditions like migraine are not serious because they are “just bad headaches”. While this is a gross misrepresentation of what migraine is, it is also overlooking the point. People with debilitating pain in the head or face cannot function as they otherwise would, which makes this condition debilitating.

Other conditions may not be debilitating at all, especially if managed properly. However, the need to constantly manage those symptoms and plan our lives around them is difficult, too. Whether you are experiencing serious symptoms every day or trying to avoid them, your life is forever changed when you become chronically ill or disabled.

That’s why it is so important not to gatekeep within the chronically ill community; we already face enough pushback and pressure from the world around us and its expectations! 

Instead, try to put yourself into your fellow spoonie’s shoes and educate yourself about what they might be going through. It is the best way to support one another and continue to benefit more from one another as a community!

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