We unearth the psychological and physical effects of suffering from some of the most common chronic conditions.
A chronic condition is an illness or disease that is long-lasting in its effects—in most cases, they are a lifelong affliction. While early intervention, restorative treatment and therapy can usually keep symptoms at bay, these are not a definite cure. With a population that is rapidly ageing, chronic illnesses are forecast to increase in the UK.
The importance of psychological support for people suffering from long-term illnesses cannot be understated. Dealing with a recurring condition can take its toll and cause considerable emotional distress. A doctor will be able to suggest the most effective form of support; this could involve counselling or even cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)—a talking therapy which has been proven to aid treatment of a range of psychological conditions. ‘We need to consider how we approach and support those people living with long-term conditions who are experiencing fear and loss of control of their lives,’ suggests Tessa Jelen, a sufferer of emphysema and fibrosis, in her guest blog post on The King’s Fund website.
Common chronic conditions
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. It affects around 10 million people in the UK. Treatments used to slow the condition include painkillers, corticosteroids (steroid medication) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Severe cases may call for physiotherapy, joint fusion, joint replacement or osteotomy (re-aligning of the bone).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to describe a group of lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common—both tend to worsen over time. Smoking is one of the main causes of COPD, therefore quitting is essential. Treatments that work to slow the progression of COPD include inhalers, oral medication, pulmonary rehabilitation and—as a last resort—a lung transplant.
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the bowel and other parts of the digestive system. People with Crohn’s can experience periods of remission—whereby the condition is inactive and produces no symptoms—and flare-ups. Common side effects such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain can be treated with corticosteroids. Immunosuppressant drugs and anti-inflammatory medication may also be prescribed to help patients cope. Severe cases may call for surgery to remove the inflamed part of the intestine.
Osteoporosis is a disorder that causes bones to weaken over time. As the condition develops, the body becomes more prone to injury, with fractures and breaks being common after minor falls. Medication for this condition is designed to strengthen bones and alleviate the pain of fractures when they occur. Your doctor may also recommend some dietary changes to cope with this long-term illness.