What is a chronic health condition?

Almost every reference about the risks associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus mention “chronic health conditions.” But what does that mean?

Almost every reference about the risks associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus mention “chronic health conditions.” But what does that mean?

About half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease, which is about 150 million of us. And yet a 2016 article in Frontiers in Public Health noted that there is a “large degree of variation in the use of the term chronic disease.” Four years later, that has not changed.

At that time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) listed arthritis, cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) included 19 chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, depression and HIV.

Neither explicitly included asthma, even though the National Institutes of Health defines it thusly:

Asthma is a chronic, or long-term, condition that intermittently inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs.

MedlinePlus defines chronic illness as “a long-term health condition that may not have a cure.” It includes asthma.

More than two thirds of all deaths are caused by one or more of these five chronic diseases: cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Quite possibly, it’s these big five that researchers mean when they list chronic disease as a risk factor for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The National Council on Aging has created this chart based on current CMMS criteria for chronic health conditions affecting adults 65 and older. Four of the 10 fall under the rubric of “heart disease.” Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema but not asthma.

Chronic health conditions for people over 65

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines chronic diseases as “as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” They have a different list and different data:

Chronic diseases in America


If you combine these four sources (and that’s an arbitrary decision), this is summary view of chronic health conditions. It’s unlikely that each is a risk factor for coronavirus disease.

  1. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  2. Arthritis
  3. Autoimmune diseases
  4. Brain diseases
    • Epilepsy
    • Parkinson’s disease
  5. Cancer
  6. Chronic kidney disease
  7. Chronic lung diseases
    • Asthma
    • Bronchitis
    • Emphysema
  8. Cystic fibrosis
  9. Depression
  10. HIV
  11. Heart disease
    • Heart failure
    • High cholesterol
    • Hypertension
    • Ischemic heart disease
  12. Inflammatory bowel disease
  13. Mood disorders
    • Bipolar
    • Cyclothymic
    • Depression
  14. Obesity
  15. Stroke
  16. Type 2 diabetes

These charts are from An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 2018.

US risk for diabetes

COPD in the US

Diabetes Prevelance US


Featured image: Wikipedia Commons

All COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 information 

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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