MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Health


Health Feature Articles

Managing chronic illnesses

Gail Carlson, MPH, Ph.D., former Health Education State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Do you have a chronic health condition? Do you have a family member or close personal friend with such an illness? A chronic illness is defined as any disease that develops slowly and lasts a long time. Some examples are diabetes, arthritis, emphysema, congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. It can be distinguished from an acute illness, which typically starts suddenly and is short lived, like a cold or the flu.


While chronic illnesses are more common among older adults, they can affect people of any age including children. Taking an active role in managing your illness can help you maintain a good quality of life despite your illness. Equally important, it can help you feel better about yourself. Here are some tips for managing chronic health conditions.

Practice secondary prevention

Secondary prevention often involves the same strategies that are useful in primary prevention — increasing physical activity, eating more healthfully and smoking cessation if you have been smoking. These actions can slow the progress of a disease after it has occurred. Secondary prevention also strengthens your entire body so you are fit and better able to fight off other illnesses. Managing two chronic diseases at the same time is much harder than managing one.

Learn to pace yourself

Some chronic illnesses result in low energy and lack of stamina. Learn to work at a slow to moderate pace and rest when you need to. Find easier ways to do things. Use the time when your energy level is highest to complete difficult tasks. A flexible attitude is also important. Is it really necessary to clean your house every day? You might have to reach a compromise that takes into consideration your standards for neatness and your energy level.

Stay involved with family and friends

When you don’t feel well or your energy level is low, it may be more comfortable just to stay at home. People with chronic illness are more likely to turn down an invitation rather than admit to a friend that they are going to need special food or a private place to take medication. However, people who cut themselves off from others are more likely to become depressed and are less able to manage an illness. If you are a friend of an individual with a chronic illness remember that it takes two to maintain a relationship. You might need to make the first move. Invite your friend to social gatherings and invite them again if they refuse. This relationship is important to both of you. Don’t give up easily; communicate regularly.

Identify and use existing resources

Many associations have good information that can help you manage your illness. For example, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society provide lots of good advice about how to manage illnesses and how to compensate for the limitations that may be caused by them. Some associations also provide financial assistance or other kinds of resource assistance that can improve quality of life.

Become a wise healthcare consumer

Understand your illness, including the symptoms, the kinds of limitations it will cause and the things you can do to lessen its impact on your life. Find a healthcare provider that is good at treating your particular problem and then stick with him or her. Find out about new research and alternative or complementary treatments that might work. Make sure to discuss these with your healthcare provider. Finally, work with your provider to find a treatment plan that you can successfully carry out. Make sure to keep your provider informed about any problems you are having with the treatment and any changes in symptoms.


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri

Last Updated 11/10/2015