Things to know about chronic conditions

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Chronic health conditions don't easily go away. By definition, a chronic health condition is a long-term illness that requires frequent monitoring, ongoing treatment, regular use of medications, and hospitalizations when symptoms are not well managed. Among the most serious conditions are asthma, diabetes, heart failure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and low back pain. These conditions do not go away on their own, and are rarely completely cured. These conditions cannot be prevented with vaccines, but there is overwhelming evidence that they can be prevented with lifestyle change.

Chronic health conditions are national health concern. Although chronic health conditions are more common among older adults, they are now affecting people of all ages in increasing numbers. This growing prevalence is one of the reasons chronic health conditions are considered "the public health challenge of the 21st century" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • 55% of America's working population is dealing with 1 to 3 chronic health conditions.
  • More than 1 of 3 (83 million) U.S. adults currently lives with one or more types of cardiovascular disease.
  • The percentage of U.S. children and adolescents with a chronic health condition has increased from 1.8% in the 1960s to more than 7% in 2004.
  • One in every 3 adults and nearly 1 in every 5 young people aged 6-19 are obese. Obesity increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers, and many other serious health conditions.

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability. The United States spends significantly more on health care than any other nation, but our average life expectancy is far below many other nations that spend less on health care. Experts attribute this disparity to the growing prevalence of chronic health conditions in the United States, where three-fourths of health care spending is for individuals with chronic health conditions.

Chronic health conditions limit your quality of life. No one likes being sick, but when you have chronic health conditions, sickness is part of everyday life. People with chronic health conditions can encounter daily activity limitations, which complicate access to health care, interfere with self-management, and necessitate reliance on caregivers. Chronic diseases can bring about symptoms of depression, and depressive disorders can themselves lead to chronic diseases.

Chronic health conditions create higher medical bills. Treating a chronic health condition requires more office visits and prescriptions, and sometimes inpatient stays and even home health care services. Out-of-pocket expenses add up quickly, even when you have good insurance. Out-of-pocket expenses can double with a chronic health condition. When a person has two or more chronic health conditions, expenses can multiply by a factor of four. As health care costs continue to rise, chronic health conditions will become even more expensive to treat.

Chronic health conditions can become a financial burden. Absorbing out-of-pocket expenses from an accident, injury or acute illness can be difficult enough for some families. Imagine the challenge of absorbing high out-of-pocket medical expenses over an extended period of time. For individuals with a chronic health condition, high out-of-pocket expenses can be especially burdensome.

Chronic diseases are preventable. "Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly of all health problems, they are also among the most preventable," advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Carpenters Wellness Program promotes prevention through healthy living, early detection, lifestyle change, and condition management programs.


Sources (citations upon request):
Gallup Healthways
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Johns Hopkins University
National Vital Statistics Reports

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