Prioritizing Illness: Lessons in Self-Managing Multiple Chronic Diseases


  • Sally Lindsay University of Toronto



self care, chronic illness, comorbidity, biographical disruption, illness trajectory


Chronic disease management strategies are largely based on single disease models, yet patients often need to manage multiple conditions. This study uses the concepts of ‘chronic illness trajectory’ and ‘biographical disruption’ to examine how patients self-manage multiple chronic conditions and especially how they prioritize which condition(s) will receive the greatest attention. Fifty-three people with multiple chronic illnesses participated in one of 6 focus groups. The results suggest that people who were disrupted tended to be younger than 60, lived on their own, cared for other family members, or other barriers. Many participants anticipated subsequent illnesses given their age and prior experience with illness. In order to cope with their multiple illnesses most felt it was necessary to prioritize their ‘main’ illness. Their reasons for prioritizing a particular illness included: (1) the unpredictable nature of the disease; (2) the condition could not be controlled by tablets; and (3) the condition tended to set off the rest of their health problems. Social context played a key role in shaping patients’ biography and chronic illness trajectory.

Author Biography

Sally Lindsay, University of Toronto

CIHR Post doctoral Fellow