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  • Writer's pictureMyriame Lyons

What Are Chronic Illnesses (or Diseases)?

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Let's get down to business, shall we?

As a counsellor in Vancouver who has special interest in working with individuals and their families living with chronic illnesses, I wonder:

What exactly are chronic illnesses (or diseases)?

How common are they?

Who gets a diagnosis?

What is a Chronic Illness?

Chronic illnesses (or diseases) are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both (CDC, 2019). These diseases can include, but aren't limited to:

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

  • Asthma

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Sleep Apnea

  • Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

  • Diabetes

  • Heart (cardiovascular) Disease (Hypertension and Stroke)

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

  • Mental illness (mood and/or anxiety disorders)

  • Neurological conditions (Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinsonism, including Parkinson's Disease)

  • Osteoporosis

As you can imagine, as the world population (specifically the Baby Boomers population) grows older, more and more people are being diagnosed with a chronic illness every year.

Today, 60% of all deaths are due to chronic diseases (WHO, 2019). And in Canada, 44% of adults 20+ have at least 1 of 10 common chronic conditions (Government of Canada, 2019). As a counsellor in Vancouver, most individuals who have come through my counselling door have received a chronic illness diagnosis are older adults, however a concerning number of young adults are also being diagnosed.

To help reduce individual's risk to developing a chronic illness, there are major risk factors that should be avoided:

  • tobacco use

  • the harmful use of alcohol

  • raised blood pressure (or hypertension)

  • physical inactivity

  • raised cholesterol

  • overweight/obesity

  • unhealthy diet

  • raised blood glucose

Some sources (e.g., BetterHealth) also highlight the impact that stress has on developing a chronic illness. You need to learn how to: live with the physical effects of the illness, deal with the treatments, make sure there is clear communication with healthcare professionals, maintain emotional balance to cope with negative feelings, maintain confidence and a positive self-image. All these can be completely overwhelming to do when faced with a diagnosis of any kind.

And so, when it comes to finding the right treatment options, it's important to broaden the lens. Who you include on your treatment team is just as important as what medications you may take. Think about including healthcare professionals, such as:

  • medical doctor

  • social worker

  • dietician

  • physiotherapist

  • and of course, a counsellor!

Read more about my approach to Chronic Illness Counselling to see if I might be the right counsellor for you.

Stay strong,


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