Chronic Health Conditions Overview

The term, “chronic health conditions,” refers to any of a number of health-related conditions that may affect the operation of bodily functions including, but not limited to, respiratory, neurological, circulatory, or immune systems of the body. These bodily functions are considered major life activities, like walking or working, under the ADA as Amended, 2008 (ADAAA). The symptoms associated with these conditions are often unstable and unpredictable and may be episodic. Symptoms associated with these conditions are often those caused by side effects of the medications used in treatment. You will hear chronic health conditions referred to as systemic disabilities, chronic illness, and medical conditions. In any case, chronic health conditions affect each individual differently and include a wide variety and severity of symptoms.

Chronic health conditions are conditions affecting one or more of the body's systems. These include the respiratory, immunological, neurological, and circulatory systems. There are many kinds of systemic impairments, varying significantly in their effects and symptoms; below are brief descriptions of some of the more common types.


Cancer is a malignant growth that can affect any part of the body. Treatment can be time-consuming, painful, and sometimes result in permanent disability.

Chemical dependency

Chemical dependency is considered a disabling condition when it is documented that a person has received treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction and is not currently using. Chemical dependency can cause permanent cognitive impairments and carries with it a great deal of stigma.

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus causes a person to lose the ability to regulate blood sugar. People with diabetes often need to follow a strict diet and may require insulin injections. During a diabetic reaction, a person may experience confusion, sudden personality changes, or loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, diabetes can also cause vision loss, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke, or can necessitate the amputation of limbs.


Epilepsy/seizure disorder causes a person to experience a loss of consciousness. Episodes, or seizures, vary from short absence or "petit mal" seizures to the less common "grand mal." Seizures are frequently controlled by medications and are most often not emergency situations.

Epstein Barr virus/chronic fatigue syndrome

Epstein Barr virus/chronic fatigue syndrome is an autoimmune disorder which causes extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and depression. Physical or emotional stress may especially adversely affect a person with this condition.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV+)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV+), which causes AIDS, inhibits one's ability to fight off illness and infections. Symptoms vary greatly. People with HIV or AIDS are often stigmatized.

Lyme's disease

Lyme's disease is a multisystemic condition which can cause paralysis, fatigue, fever, dermatitis, sleeping problems, memory dysfunction, cognitive difficulties, and depression.

Lupus erythematosis

Lupus erythematosis can cause inflammatory lesions, neurological problems, extreme fatigue, persistent flu-like symptoms, impaired cognitive ability, connective tissue dysfunction, and mobility impairments. Lupus most often affects young women.

Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)

Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) often results from prolonged exposure to chemicals. A person with MCS becomes increasingly sensitive to chemicals found in everyday environments. Reactions can be caused by cleaning products, pesticides, petroleum products, vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, room deodorizers, perfumes, and scented personal products. Though reactions vary, nausea, rashes, lightheadedness, and respiratory distress are common to MCS.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of symptoms, such as loss of strength, numbness, vision impairments, tremors, and depression. The intensity of MS symptoms can vary greatly; one day a person might be extremely fatigued and the next day feel strong. Extreme temperature can also especially adversely affect a person with MS.

Renal disease/failure

Renal disease/failure can result in loss of bladder control, extreme fatigue, pain and toxic reactions that can cause cognitive difficulties. Some people with renal disease are on dialysis and have to adhere to a rigid schedule.

Some considerations:

  • Since SFSU is primarily an attending institution, attendance is essential and may be mandatory. Students need to be aware of each course attendance policy and work with the DPRC. Some classes such as lab and seminars attendance leeway maybe limited.
  • Students affected by chronic health conditions differ from those with other disabilities because chronic health conditions are often unstable and unpredictable. This causes a person's condition to vary; therefore, the need for and type of reasonable accommodations may also change.
  • Priority registration is a helpful accommodation because there could be side effects from medication.
  • The DPRC makes every effort to reasonably accommodate documented students with disabilities; however, the responsibility of securing personal attendants or personal assistants lies with the student. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, colleges and universities are under no obligation to provide such services to students. The College assumes no coordination or financial responsibilities for attendants/assistants.

Association on Higher Education and Disability. (2011). College Students Who Have Chronic or Episodic Disabilities (1st Ed.) [Brochure].