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Diseases & Conditions

Chronic Illness

Why can coping with a chronic illness be so difficult?

When you are ill with bronchitis or the flu, you know you will be feeling better and functioning normally within a week or so. A chronic illness is different. A chronic illness may never go away and can disrupt your lifestyle in many ways.

What are some effects of a chronic illness?

Pain and fatigue may become a frequent part of your day. Physical changes from a disease process may occur and affect your appearance. These changes may diminish your positive self-image. When you don't feel good about yourself, you may prefer isolation and withdraw from friends and social activities.

Chronic illness can also influence your ability to function at work. Morning stiffness, decreased range of motion, and other physical limitations may require you to modify your work activities and environment. Decreased work ability can lead to financial difficulties. For the homemaker, a specific task may take much longer to accomplish. You may need the help of your spouse, a relative, or a home health care provider. As your life changes, you may feel a loss of control, and anxiety about the uncertainty of what lies ahead.


Stress can build and influence how you feel about life. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. The person with the illness is not the only one affected. Family members are also influenced by the persistent health changes of a loved one.

How can I make my life better?

The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope. Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of a chronic illness. Learning to manage stress will help you to maintain a positive physical, emotional, and spiritual outlook on life.

A mental health care provider can design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. Strategies can be designed to help you regain a sense of control over your life and improve your quality of life, something everyone deserves. At times, if depression is present, medications other than those treating the physical illness may be ordered to help regulate your mood.

What kind of help is available?

There are many types of help available for people with chronic illnesses. Among them are:

Support groups

Support groups are a very useful sharing experience. They provide an environment where you can learn new ways of dealing with your illness. You may want to share approaches you have discovered with others. You will also gain strength in knowing that you are not facing hardships alone.

Individual counseling

Sometimes people have problems that are better addressed in a one-on-one atmosphere. By participating in individual counseling, you may more effectively express sensitive or private feelings you have about your illness and its impact on your lifestyle and relationships.

  • Chronic illness
  • Uncertainty of future
  • Unpredictability of disease
  • Disability
  • Financial difficulties
Stress signals
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Headaches

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/23/2012...#4062