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Chronic Illness

Posted Dec 08 2009 11:33pm

There are many types of chronic illness, from diabetes and AIDS to arthritis and persistent fatigue. While medical science has made great strides in developing effective treatments for the physical effects of these diseases, many victims still face a staggering challenge to their mental and emotional health.

One of the biggest fears is the uncertainty associated with a chronic illness. The condition may be sporadic, lasting only a short while. Or, it could be permanent, gradually worsening over time.

Chronic illness can force many potentially stressful lifestyle changes, such as giving up cherished activities, adapting to new physical limitations and special needs, and paying for what can be expensive medications and treatment services.

Even day-to-day living may be difficult. A study of patients suffering from chronic tension headaches experienced diminished performance in their jobs and social functioning, and were three to fifteen times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder.

The need for emotional endurance

Over time, these stresses and negative feelings can rob you of the emotional energy necessary to move forward with your life. Lack of progress in your recovery or worsening symptoms can trigger negative thoughts that heighten feelings of anxiety and sadness, often leading to depression.

Acting quickly to address depression is essential. In studies of patients recently diagnosed with various types of chronic illnesses, the highest risk of depressive symptoms occurred within the first two years. While these symptoms usually diminished, patients with heart disease maintain a significantly higher risk for depression as long as eight years after diagnosis. Physical limitations imposed by heart disease and other chronic illnesses such as arthritis and lung disease are also a common source of depression, particularly among older adults.

Because depression often leads to poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and inconsistent hygiene, it may actually complicate your recovery from a chronic illness and worsen your overall physical condition.

Those battling heart disease are especially at risk. Prolonged depression in patients with cardiovascular disease is a known contributor to subsequent heart attacks and strokes. And heart attack survivors suffering from major depression are three to four times more likely to die within six months.

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