The Difference Between Illness and Chronic Illness

Everyone has dealt with illness, whether it’s a stomach bug or strep throat or the common cold. Many have suffered through longer bouts of illness or injury, such as having the flu or breaking a bone. While these experiences can be miserable, they are distinctly different from living with chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

When a person gets a run-of-the-mill cold, stomach upset, or headache, they know it’s going to end. One may not know whether it’s going to be a 24-hour bug or something a bit longer, but people don’t have to rearrange their lives over these short-lived illnesses. Perhaps they may have to call in sick or cancel an appointment or event, but it’s an unusual occurrence.

Those of us living with chronic illness experience something quite different. When we have a flare up of symptoms, not only are we unsure how long it will last, we also don’t know when the next flare will occur. Most people can take a sick day from work without worry, as they take them rarely and have plenty of leave built up. For those of us with diseases, we have to be very judicious about when we take leave. This is due to the worry of running out of leave and dealing with the financial hardship of docked paychecks as well as the concern about being considered a liability due to frequent absences.

Impact of chronic illness on personal relationships

Chronic illness can also impact personal relationships. If a typically-healthy person gets the flu and has to miss a friend’s party or a relative’s birthday, people are generally understanding. However, people contending with chronic conditions often have to miss special events with a higher frequency. Friends and family members can feel slighted after being cancelled on multiple times, in spite of the fact that those of us with chronic illness would much prefer attending a brunch or a dinner party to being laid up at home.

Furthermore, while a generally healthy person may on rare occasions need some chicken soup, a pickup from the pharmacy, or a ride to the emergency room, it's common for people with chronic conditions to need support from loved ones. Disease can make it incredibly difficult to work full-time, perform household chores, or even drive to medical appointments. Some spouses and close relatives are unwilling or unable to provide caretaking duties, which can result in divorce and broken relationships with loved ones.

Financial impact of chronic illness

Chronic illness can also have a dramatic financial impact. While a typical illness may require a co-pay at the doctor’s office and a prescription or two to fill at the pharmacy, chronic illness can have devastating, long-lasting effects on one’s finances. Many of the maintenance drugs used to treat chronic illness are incredibly expensive, even with insurance. Most specialists want to see the patients they track multiple times a year. These visits, in addition to unexpected trips to the doctor when disease activity increases, add up. Many people with chronic illness do not get adequate relief from western medicine alone and look for alternative treatments, supplements, and diets, all of which negatively impact one’s budget. Furthermore, disease prevents some people from working full-time or working at all, which can push individuals into poverty.

In addition to impacting one’s social life, work life, relationships with others, and finances, chronic illness creeps into virtually all areas of one’s life, from the types of work a person is able to perform to his/her sex life to the decision of whether or not to have children. For those fortunate enough to rarely be ill, it’s difficult to fathom just how profound an impact chronic illness can have on decisions and opportunities, minute to tremendous. Contending with disease is life-altering, and when one has a disease without a cure, life never returns to normal.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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