In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Chronic Illness

  • Introduction
  • Major Reference Works
  • Professional Organizations
  • Disease-Oriented Resources
  • Journals
  • Prevalence
  • Acute versus Chronic Illness
  • Post Active Phase of Infection Syndrome (PAPIS)
  • Classifications
  • Chronic Physical versus Mental Illness
  • Defining
  • Lived Experience
  • Caregivers

Social Work Chronic Illness
Patricia Fennell, Sara Lynne Rieder Bennett, Shane George
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0160


The epidemic of chronic illness has been among one of the fastest-growing challenges facing the health-care system in recent decades. Medicine is undergoing a paradigm shift as chronic illnesses have become more prevalent than acute illness, a change that has occurred due to a number of factors. Improvements in medical care have transformed previously fatal illnesses into chronic conditions for individuals at all ages, as well as contributed to an increasingly aging population living with chronic illness. Public health advances, such as availability of cleaner water, health-care access, and vaccinations, have also decreased childhood mortality. At the same time, social changes, such as increasingly sedentary lifestyle and food insecurity, have led to a higher prevalence of some conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, communicable illnesses, including the COVID-19 pandemic, present a greater challenge for chronically ill populations. Access to health care during such crises can influence treatment and management of existing conditions. Chronic illness is a major global challenge that exists within various global systems. Factors that pertain to the chronic illness experience can be compounded by their intersections with different social contexts as well. As such, systemic issues can play a role in how chronically ill people experience and manage their health. This article provides an overview of major topics and references in the study of chronic illness. Given the complex biopsychosocial nature of chronic illness, this article focuses on surveying multidisciplinary and cross-cultural views of chronic illness.

Major Reference Works

The following is a list of major reference works related to the study of chronic illness. As the field is continuing to be defined by a variety of professions, this list is a brief overview of works that may assist readers in grounding knowledge of chronic illness. The World Health Organization provides general information about chronic diseases, with disease-specific information and worldwide statistics. Two major national entities are the National Health Services in the United Kingdom and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, which provide information on epidemiology, prevention, and management of specific diseases and chronic illness. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the US government’s resource for health research and funding. The NIH includes the National Library of Medicine Bookshelf, which is an online resource provided by the US government with access to books and documents in the biomedical sciences. PubMed is a free online resource from the US National Library of Medicine. The Merck Manual also provides a consumer and professional page that provides comprehensive information about many health topics. Sociometrics is a fee-based online provider of behavioral and social science materials, including research findings, training, and data sets for professionals and consumers. The Concise Medical Dictionary (Law and Martin 2020) is among the world’s leading references for medical science information, with entries on many topics important in the study and treatment of chronic illness. The Australian government provides free access to palliative health-care information on CareSearch, a website funded by the Department of Health and Ageing.

  • CareSearch.

    The Australian government’s online resource for palliative care information that is designed for use by health professionals, patients, and caregivers. The website is funded by the Department of Health and Ageing and provides free information on illnesses as well as functional aspects of illnesses, such as fatigue. CareSearch also has a fee-based service for research data management.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The CDC is the US government’s resource for health information, including epidemiology, data about diseases and conditions, preventative healthcare, and developmental and demographic information about health. The CDC provides specific information about Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, including health behaviors, prevention of illness and premature death, and programs to address illness and treatment.

  • Law, Jonathan, and Elizabeth A. Martin, ed. 2020. Concise medical dictionary. 8th ed. Oxford Quick Reference. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Oxford’s Concise Medical Dictionary is the foremost dictionary of medical science, including entries on illnesses, treatment, pharmacology, health service organizations, and specialty practice areas. The 10th edition added entries on a variety of topics relevant to chronic illness, including burden of treatment and person-centered care.

  • The Merck Manual.

    Comprehensive website of health-related topics written by medical experts worldwide. The Merck Manual began in 1899 as a reference book for physicians and pharmacists, and has grown to include a consumer website, medical professional, and veterinary resources.

  • National Health Services.

    NHS began in 1948 in the United Kingdom and is the world’s largest publicly funded health service. It provides disease-focused articles about a variety of chronic illnesses. NHS also provides information regarding the impact of chronic illness on individuals and how to manage chronic illness, such as an article on the impact of chronic illness on pregnancy.

  • National Institutes of Health.

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the US medical research agency that supports health-related studies and disseminates information regarding specific diseases and chronic illness management. It provides patient education through Medline Plus, “Coping with Chronic Illness,” which was originally published in 1996 by the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. NIH includes the National Library of Medicine Bookshelf, which provides free access to health-care and biomedical books and documents. Topics cover a broad range of life sciences, including chemistry, genetics, taxonomy, and data and software in biomedical sciences.

  • PubMed.

    PubMed is a free online resource from the US National Library of Medicine that incorporates millions of citations and full-text resources, including MEDLINE, journals, and books in the biomedical fields. Resources cover broad areas, including clinical research and queries, specific conditions, allied health fields, and complementary medicine.

  • Sociometrics Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences Library.

    Sociometrics has collaborated with the National Institutes of Health for nearly forty years, and is now a major online provider of research, professional development, and data sets in the health professions. A fee-based service, users can access data, evidence-based treatments, and continuing education by populations and topic areas, including disability, HIV/AIDS, health behaviors and outcomes, and alternative medicine.

  • World Health Organization.

    The organization of the United Nations for health matters, health research and evidence-based practice, and provision of technical support and information globally. Provides general information about illness and health and specific information on diseases and chronic illness. WHO uses a disease-focused model to understand specific conditions. In addition, WHO has departments of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion and Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

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