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What is chronic disease? Important things to know about chronic diseases for Persons With Disabilities

Chronic disease is disease that persists over a long period of time. Chronic disease can hinder independence and the health of people with disabilities, as it may create additional activity limitations. People with chronic disease often think that they are free from the disease when they have no symptoms. Having no symptoms, however, does not necessarily mean that chronic disease has disappeared. The good news is that chronic disease can be prevented or controlled through 1) regular participation in physical activity, 2) eating healthy, 3) not smoking, and 4) avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Listed below are examples of common chronic diseases and their early signs.

Arthritis is the “wear and tear” on the joints such as the knees, hips and wrists. Its early signs include:

  • Joint pain after sitting for a short time or when waking up.
  • Stiffness at joints.
  • Tenderness and redness at joints.
  • Swelling at joints.

Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the body. Its risk factors include:

  • Excessive exposure to sunlight.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Family history.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals.
  • Poor diet.

Stroke is a blockage of blood flow to the brain. Its signs include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

- If someone notices any of these signs,call 911 immediately!

Heart attack is a blockage of blood flow to the heart. Its warning signs may include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Irregular heartbeats.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Uncomfortable pressure or pain in the chest.

- If someone notices any of these signs, call 911 immediately!

Obesity is a chronic health condition of being above normal body weight. It is a risk factor for other chronic diseases such as arthritis, stroke, heart attack, asthma, Type 2 diabetes, and other social and emotional issues. Obesity is often related to a person’s lifestyle such as:

  • Lack of physical activity.
  • High fat/calorie diet.

Common risk factors of many of these chronic diseases, which are related to daily life, include:

  • Smoking.
  • Excessive alcohol.
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight.
  • Depression.
  • Stress.

Early diagnosis is important and helpful in managing chronic diseases. Talk to your physician regarding more information about chronic diseases as well as to learn effective disease prevention and disease management steps.

This information sheet was prepared by the Illinois Department of Public Health Disability and Health Program with a goal of promoting health and preventing secondary conditions among Illinois citizens with disabilities. Funding was provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a cooperative agreement (U59DD000271). To learn more about the program and how to become involved, call 217-782-3300 or TTY 800-547-0466.


535 W. Jefferson St., Second Floor Springfield, IL 62761
Phone: 217-782-3300
Fax: 217-782-1235 TTY 800-547-0466