What are chronic diseases?
Chronic diseases, also known as noncommunicable diseases, are health conditions mostly characterized by:
- Being long-lasting and persisting throughout and individual’s life
- Having complex causes and many risk factors
- Requiring ongoing medical attention
- Limiting one’s daily activities or causing disability
- Having a long latency period (the time between the onset of the illness and feeling symptoms)
- Generally, not being curable, but manageable
Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, cancer, and diabetes are among the most prevalent, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the United States, and here in Chester County as well. More than 133 million Americans are living with a chronic disease and more than 50 million individuals live with 5 or more chronic conditions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022). Chronic diseases are responsible for 70-80% of deaths in Chester County. Of the top five leading causes of death, four are chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, and lower chronic respiratory diseases.
Those living with a chronic disease and their families face both indirect and direct burdens to their quality of life such as:
- Higher medical bills due to more doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, ER visits, prescription drug use, and assistive technology or service use
- The annual direct healthcare costs for someone with chronic diseases is an average $6,032
- This is 5 times more than a person without a chronic disease (CDC, 2022)
- Physical limitations from pain and fatigue of either living with the condition or being a caregiver
- Obstacles to learning and investing in higher education
- Employment limitations and loss of income
- Social isolation and mental distress
What causes chronic disease?
Chronic diseases result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, and behavioral factors in one’s life. Different chronic diseases share many common risk factors. While individual risk factors such as age, sex, family history, and your genetics cannot be changed, many behavioral risk factors can be modified to help prevent getting a chronic disease or help manage an existing condition. Some biological risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood sugar, being overweight or obese, and cholesterol levels can be managed by making changes to one’s lifestyle/behaviors including.
How can you prevent chronic diseases or manage a current condition?
- Quit or never start using tobacco products
- Drink less alcohol
- Know your family history
- Get active
- Make healthy food options including eating more fresh fruits and veggies and less foods high in processed sugar and fats
- Get adequate sleep
- Visit your dentist regularly and take care of your teeth and gums daily
- Visit your doctor regularly
- Get regular preventative healthcare services
If you or a loved one is living with a chronic disease, there are many resources available to help you take control of the disease improve your quality of life. If you are living with a chronic condition invest in lifestyle management including physical activity and self-management programs. Chronic disease management programs are workshops and support systems that focus on disease management skills to increase an individual's confidence, well-being, knowledge of the disease, decision making, and planning for their disease, all to improve their quality of life and overall wellbeing.
Local Resources and Services
- Chester County Aging Services
- Chester County Hospital Community Wellness and Education
- Chester County Hospital Support Groups
- Chester County Hospital Screening Programs
- Paoli Hospital Community Programs and Screenings
- YMCA of Greater Brandywine Health Management and Disease Prevention Services