Despite advances in medical science, there are many serious illnesses that people can die from. Some of these illness are 'life limiting' illnesses – they are known to shorten people's lives. These types of illnesses include, among others, heart failure, diabetes, liver failure, lung disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/Aids, kidney failure needing dialysis, certain forms of cancer, spread of cancer and recurrence of cancer that has previously responded to treatment.
There are many illnesses that people die from that do not necessarily shorten life. A good example of this kind of illness is dementia when sufferers may live for very many years and die in old age.
Sometimes there may be more than one illness at the same time that increases the risk of dying – for example chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, diabetes and kidney failure, a heart attack in someone who has had a stroke or severe infection in someone having cancer chemotherapy.
Sadly, life limiting illnesses can affect children and young people too.
You may have been born with a condition that affects your health and life expectancy – examples of this type of condition include cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and severe cerebral palsy. You may develop a serious illness as a child, teenager or young adult that limits your life despite years of prolonged and extensive treatment. Examples include certain types of cancer and recurrence of cancer after previous successful treatment.
If you think you might have cancer or another serious illness it is important that you talk to your GP about how you think your health has changed.
It is often a huge shock if you've been diagnosed with cancer or another life limiting illness. Information you are given at the time goes over your head and leaves you with lots of unanswered questions. It is important that you speak to your doctors and ask them to explain again. Don't be afraid to phone your consultant's secretary to ask for an appointment. It is worth thinking about the questions you want to ask and making a list prior to your appointment and, if possible, taking someone with you. If you've been given the contact details of someone working with your consultant or GP such as a specialist nurse, don't be afraid to contact them too.