A chronic illness is a disease that has a prolonged course, does not resolve spontaneously, and rarely is completely cured. Typical examples include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. These illnesses are usually more common as a population ages. In the United States, as in most developed countries, chronic diseases account for approximately 70 percent of all deaths, and a similar proportion of all health care costs. Recent analyses have shown chronic illnesses to be a more important cause of the burden of disease in developing countries than was previously recognized.
The commonly held belief that chronic illnesses have noninfectious origins has become blurred. A few chronic illnesses, including cervical cancer, liver cancer, and some forms of arthritis, now appear to have infectious causes. Given the large chronic disease burden and the aging population, efforts to reduce the burden, arrest or slow deterioration, and prevent disability from these illnesses will be among the paramount issues in public health for the foreseeable future.
JAMES S. MARKS
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Murray, C. J. L., and Lopez, A. D. (1986). The Global Burden of Disease. Geneva: World Health Organization.