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
  • Classifications
  • Chronic Physical versus Mental Illness
  • Defining
  • Lived Experience

Social Work Chronic Illness
Patricia Fennell, Sara Lynne Rieder Bennett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0160


The epidemic of chronic illness is one of the fastest-growing challenges facing the health care system today. 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, have also decreased childhood mortality, while social changes have brought about an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and led to a higher prevalence of some conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This entry provides an overview of major topics and references in the study of chronic illness. Given the complex biopsychosocial nature of chronic illness, this entry is intended to review 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 is the US government’s resource for health research and funding. The Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary (Martin 2010) 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. The National Library of Medicine Bookshelf is an online resource provided by the US government with access to books and documents in the biomedical sciences. The National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation in the United States also provide fee-based access to hundreds of datasets through the Social Science Electronic Data Library. PubMed is a free online resource from the US National Library of Medicine.

  • 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.

  • Martin, Elizabeth A., ed. 2010. Concise medical dictionary. 8th ed. Oxford paperback 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.

  • 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 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.

  • National Library of Medicine Bookshelf.

    The US National Library of Medicine provides free access to healthcare 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.

  • Social Science Electronic Data Library.

    The National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation in the United States provide fee-based access to more than 680 health and social science datasets from the past twenty years. Topic areas include the social research on aging, research on disability in the United States, and AIDS/STD data.

  • World Health Organization.

    The United Nations’ organization 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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