What Are Chronic Illnesses?

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been hearing a lot about underlying conditions. Data shows us that the majority of people most severely impacted have underlying illnesses, and they usually fall into the category of chronic diseases. 

One category of chronic illnesses are cardiovascular diseases, for example. These are especially relevant in the Covid-19 discussion, from what we currently see. 

If you’re wondering more about chronic illnesses, the following are things you should know.

Understanding Chronic Illnesses

A chronic illness is one that’s long-term. It also means that while there might be treatments, there’s not a cure for the illness. Instead, your focus is on managing it so you can live your daily life without interruption. 

A chronic illness can come from different risk factors and complex causes, and there are often periods where you don’t notice it as much. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 U.S. adults have a chronic disease. Four in 10 have two or more. 

Chronic diseases are specifically conditions that last a year or more and require ongoing medical care and/or limit daily activities. 

Some chronic diseases are the leading causes of disability and death in the U.S., and they are some of the main drivers of the trillions we spend in the U.S. on health care. 

Many, but not all, chronic diseases are the cause of certain risk factors. 

These risk factors include tobacco use, poor nutrition, a lack of physical activity, and excess alcohol use. 

For many chronic diseases, there are ways you can prevent them or reduce your risk. 

Living a healthier lifestyle overall is the best way to prevent a chronic illness from developing or reduce and manage the symptoms. 


Asthma is different than some of the other most common chronic illnesses in that children often have it, so it’s not the result of lifestyle.

Asthma occurs when the airways become inflamed and swell. When someone has an asthma attack, the lining of their air passages swells which leads to the tightening in the airways. That then reduces how much air can go through their airway.

For some people with asthma, symptoms can be triggered by breathing in certain triggers like pollen or dust mites. 

Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease and stroke, as well as other types of cardiovascular disease, cause 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. Some of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and being overweight. 

It’s estimated that 859,000 Americans die each year of cardiovascular diseases. 

Even just taking reasonable steps to lower your blood pressure can help combat cardiovascular disease. 


More than 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and 1 in 4 don’t know they have it. 

An estimated 84 million adults have prediabetes, and 90% of those people don’t know they have it. Prediabetes is a Type 2 diabetes risk factor.

If you are 45 and older, overweight, and not very physically active, you are at risk for both prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. 

Diabetes also increases the likelihood of stroke and heart disease and can lead to complications, including blindness and kidney failure. 

Some Type 2 diabetes risk factors include age and family history aren’t things you have any control over, but most of the other risk factors you do.


While obesity is a risk factor for most chronic diseases, it is also considered a chronic illness itself.

Obesity and being overweight are the second-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. only behind tobacco, may overtake tobacco in the coming years. 

In New York state just as an example, the percentage of obese adults went up from 16% in 1997 to 27.6% in 2018. Obesity among children and young adults has tripled in the past three decades. 

In the U.S., as a whole 40% of adults are obese and 72% are overweight or obese. 


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., but many kinds of cancer are preventable and if they are caught early, they are treatable. 

Some of the main risk factors for preventable cancers include getting too much UV radiation from tanning beds or the sun, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and smoking. 

Obesity and being overweight are linked to at least 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, and colorectal cancer. 

While chronic illnesses can take a physical, mental and financial toll, being aware of the symptoms and risk factors can help you make more informed health care decisions and lifestyle choices for yourself and your family.






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