A chronic illness usually develops slowly, lasts for an indefinite period of time, can deteriorate overall health and usually requires intervention to resolve. Many chronic diseases are uncertain in prognosis. Cure is problematic or impossible, so treatment concentrates in making the patient comfortable or relieving pain. Sometimes patients suffer from multiple diseases; and the side effects of medical treatments can lead to additional chronicity. Long-time use of drugs, routine monitoring and crisis requiring hospitalization make chronic diseases expensive. The extent to which patients succumb to the various effects of chronic disease depends upon numerous factors, in particular their psycho-social support, financial status, childhood experiences, sense of humour and determination to push on.
There is an epidemic of allergic (60 million people), asthmatic (30 million people), and autoimmune disorders (24 million people). Globally, chronic diseases kill about 24 million people a year, and are responsible for half the deaths on the planet. As populations age, the proportion of deaths due to chronic disease will rise.
In 2016, around 60-70% of all deaths and disability in countries like Australia are from heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and other non-communicable chronic diseases.
In 2001, chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, Parkinson's, birth defects and diabetes were responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the USA. More than a third of the population, over 100 million men, women and children, suffered from one or more chronic illness, such as heart conditions, arthritis, rheumatism, autism, multiple sclerosis, leukaemia and impairments of back and spine. By 2020, studies estimate that chronic disease will afflict 134 million Americans and cost $1 million million a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 70% are preventable.
People can be feeling extremely unwell, struggling for every breath and in in great pain. However hospitals will not regard them as requiring ambulance transport or other forms of treatment.