Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

Your Health

Coping with chronic illness

Receiving a diagnosis of a chronic illness means that your life is changed, perhaps forever. It can be frightening and daunting to face the challenges ahead. By learning more about your condition and doing what you can to manage it, you can feel stronger and more able to take it all in stride.

Some health problems are categorized as acute, meaning they occur suddenly and can be over fairly quickly, such as a cold or flu. Chronic diseases are long-lasting health conditions that usually begin and progress slowly. They can be difficult to diagnose, and it may be hard to determine their cause.

Chronic illnesses may be caused by many different things, including heredity; lifestyle factors such as smoking, lack of exercise and diet; and environmental exposure. Some common chronic illnesses include arthritis, asthma, emphysema, cancer, diabetes, digestive disorders, heart conditions, chronic pain and sleep disorders.


Without appropriate management, living with chronic disease can result in lack of physical conditioning and fatigue, along with emotional issues such as depression and anger. The fourth edition of “Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions” (Bull Publishing, 2012), by Stanford University’s Kate Lorig, R.N., DrPH; Halsted Holman, M.D.; Diana Laurent, MPH et al, teaches readers how to manage their chronic illnesses. The goal of the book is simply stated: “To help people live the best possible life with a long-term condition.” The new edition is updated with the latest research and designed to be even more reader-friendly than past versions.

The book grew out of a research project at Stanford, the “Chronic Disease Self-Management Study.” Citing the experience of study participants, physicians, patients and health professionals from around the world, this informative book offers helpful tips to make it easier to cope with chronic disease and its symptoms, including fatigue, pain, disability and depression. The authors encourage readers to become “positive self-managers” of their conditions by understanding all they can about their individual diagnoses and treatment options. They are encouraged to set goals, make action plans and monitor their own progress. The book is full of charts and forms that make planning and tracking easy.

“Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions” examines issues that are common to the experience of chronic illness, such as communication, sex and intimacy, nutrition, managing medicines and planning for the future. Coping mechanisms, including physical, mental and emotional exercises, are also described. Dedicated chapters focus on several specific diseases: chronic lung disease, heart disease and high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes.

The book offers information on all aspects of everyday life, from waking up in the morning to bathing and hygiene, dressing, cooking, entertaining and traveling. It is encouraging to read about the many things that can be done to make life easier.

“After the Diagnosis: Transcending Chronic Illness” (Simon & Schuster, 2010) takes a different approach. This is a personal book that inspires both patients and caregivers to rethink the way they think about and cope with chronic illness. Author Julian Seifter, M.D., a leading expert on kidney disease, chronicles his own experience after receiving a diagnosis of diabetes. As he examines his role as both physician and patient, he uncovers insights into life with a chronic disease. Co-written with his wife, Betsy, the book delves into the emotional, spiritual and physical challenges presented by chronic illness. Using their own story, along with those of his patients, the Seifters build a case for finding an individual and personal solution for coping.

Stanford Health Library has more than 1,000 e-books available at no charge to anyone with an Internet connection. Two especially good titles on living with chronic illness are “You Don’t Look Sick! Living Well with Invisible Chronic Illness” by Joy S. Selak and Steven S. Overman (Demos Health, 2013) and “Coping with Chronic Illness: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach for Adherence and Depression Workbook” by Steven A. Safren, Jeffrey S. Gonzalez and Nafisseh Soroudi (Oxford University Press, 2008).

To learn more, drop by, call or email Stanford Health Library. The library is free and open to the public. Librarians will conduct research free of charge to help answer specific questions.

The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located in the Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Other branches are located on the first floor of Stanford Hospital, on the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center and at the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

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