Chronic diseases

What is a long-term condition?

A long-term condition (sometimes known as a chronic condition) is an illness that does not currently have a cure. Instead, treatment aims to manage the symptoms and help the person live the best life possible with their condition.

Around 15 million people in the UK have a long-term condition . The most common long-term conditions in the UK include:

What is the prognosis?

All long-term conditions are chronic, meaning they cannot be cured. However, they may differ in how they develop over time:

a progressive condition is the term given to conditions which gradually worsen over time. Dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are progressive conditions and can ultimately result in a reduced lifespan. Specific conditions might progress in a “stepped” fashion. For example, the symptoms of vascular dementia are relatively stable but will worsen each time the patient experiences a stroke or mini-stroke.

a fluctuating condition involves symptoms that vary over time, sometimes with a degree of unpredictability. Chronic depression is often included in this category, as well as chronic fatigue. In conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, periods of suddenly worsening symptoms are known as “flare ups”.

Who is affected?

Many long-term conditions can affect people at any age, but they are much more commonly seen in older people . 58% of people over the age of 60 have a long-term condition, compared with just 14% of people under the age of 40.

A large number of people in the UK are living with more than one long-term condition, a situation known as “multi-morbidity”. For example, the majority of people over the age of 75 live with two or more long-term conditions .

Many long-term conditions are associated with lifestyle factors such as poor diet, being overweight, or smoking. Others are directly associated with the ageing process, such as cognitive decline in the case of dementia. Because of this, many chronic conditions take a long time to develop to the point of diagnosable symptoms, and this can help explain their increasing incidence later in life.

How are long-term conditions treated?

Care for people with long-term conditions is complex, particular if someone has more than one condition. Most likely you will be cared for by a team of specialists across multiple disciplines, with regular check-ups and reviews on how you are managing your condition.

Because some long-term conditions can have a significant impact on day to day life, social care is equally as important. Your healthcare team may work with the local council to determine what, if any, home care or equipment you may need to make life at home easier.

Finally, emotional support is important, as it can be extremely challenging to adjust to the reality of life with a long-term condition. After diagnosis the GP or specialist should recommend local support groups or charities who can help you come to terms with your condition and continue living the life you want.

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