Chronic illness

What is a chronic illness?

Man walking alone on a road at sunset time

Chronic Buddy’s mission is to make it easier for people with chronic diseases to go abroad. However, there are a number of definitions of this type of disease, which can have an impact on the estimation of the number of people affected, consequences and needs of patients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic diseases are responsible for 63% of deaths worldwide. In France, one in four people are said to have a chronic disease, six in ten in the United States (source: Crédoc, CDC). So what is a chronic illness? Answer in this article!

The World Health Organization’s definition

The WHO defines chronic diseases as “long-term conditions that generally progress slowly”. It associates them with non-transmissible diseases, which includes, for example, alcoholism, cancer and excludes chronic infectious diseases such as AIDS. According to the WHO, chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, etc.) are the leading cause of death in the world. Of the 36 million people who died of chronic diseases in 2008, 29% were under 60 years of age and half were women (source: WHO).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States define chronic diseases as “conditions that last at least one year or more, require continuous medical attention and/or limit activities of daily living”. (source: CDC).

Chronic disease according medicine

It is possible to medically distinguish two types of diseases: acute and chronic.

Acute diseases are of limited duration, i.e. they heal relatively quickly or can be fatal: infections (flu, cholera…), non-chronic cancers.

Thus, chronic diseases cannot be cured (or partially cured), are often progressive, invisible and generally last a lifetime. They involve long-term medical care, and can lead to serious complications, disability or handicap. 

The different types of chronic diseases

The list of chronic diseases is long, but it is possible to classify them into broad categories:

  1.  Autoimmune diseases (caused by a dysfunction of the immune system) such as type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (e. g. Crohn), or rheumatoid arthritis. There are about 80 autoimmune diseases, affecting about 5 to 8% of the world’s population, 80% of them women. (source: INSERM)
  2.  Rare diseases, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and myopathies;
  3.  Persistent communicable diseases, such as AIDS or hepatitis C;
  4.  Long-term mental disorders (depression, schizophrenia, etc.)
  5.  Diseases with various organic causes such as chronic renal failure, organ transplant following transplantation, chronic respiratory diseases (e.g. bronchitis, asthma, etc.), cardiovascular diseases, certain types of cancer, or type 2 diabetes.

Chronic diseases are constantly increasing in the world population, due to sedentary lifestyles (e.g. type 2 diabetes), but also due to health improvements and longer lifespans that turn some infectious diseases into chronic one (e.g. AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis). (Source: Cohen-Scali)

Social consequences of chronic illness

Chronic diseases cannot be defined purely on a medical level, by the state of health or the care they involve. Like the United States, France considers the “impact of the disease on daily life” as a criterion for defining chronic illnesses. These can lead to “functional limitation of activities, participation in social life; dependence on a drug, diet, medical technology, equipment, personal assistance; medical or paramedical care, psychological assistance, education or adaptation needs”. (Source: French Public Health Society).

Chronic diseases have social consequences that impact the daily lives of patients, which can lead to isolation or exclusion. They can lead to disability, fatigue or asthenia, and sometimes require adverse drug reactions. They may require therapeutic constraints and behavioural changes, such as having to consider taking treatment at fixed times (diabetes) or diet adjustments. (Source: French Public Health Society).  This is why people living with a chronic illness generally experience what is called “social life under duress”, which impacts social relationships and the “ordinary” activities of daily life (going out with friends, family life, sports, travel…). (Source: CREDOC study).

Hence Chronic Buddy’s purpose: to improve the quality of life of people living with chronic disease, to enable everyone to live their dreams beyond the borders and their disease, by providing medical information and human support around the world.