I'm talking about an incurable disease which is a lifelong affliction but is not fatal.

Usage - She is suffering from a ____________ illness.

I can't use terminal here because terminal means "predicted to lead to death, especially slowly; incurable.".

  • She has a serious health condition is how I would say it. Illness automatically sounds like it is probably somewhat transient. Health condition sounds more long term, like diabetes. Sep 30, 2016 at 5:27
  • @aparente001 - There's no indication that the condition is "serious". It could be just a minor annoyance.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 1, 2016 at 2:32
  • @HotLicks - Oh. Well, in that case, long term illness. Oct 1, 2016 at 2:39

6 Answers 6



From the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

Of diseases, etc.: Lasting a long time, long-continued, lingering, inveterate; opposed to acute

OED cites as an example:

1994 Jrnl. Internal Med. 236 685 A 23-year-old female student exhibited all the characteristics of chronic factitious disorder with physical symptoms (Munchhausen's syndrome): deliberate simulation of illness, peregrination, fantastic pseudology and dramatic circumstances on admittance. (Emphasis added)

OED contrasts chronic with acute

acute: Of a disease, symptom, etc.: coming quickly to a crisis or conclusion; of rapid onset and short duration; of recent or sudden onset; contrasted with chronic

The Cambridge English Dictionary gives as examples (rearranged):

chronic arthritis/pain

She suffers from chronic pain in her knees.

I have a chronic bowel disease

  • 2
    @TheBitByte ... Yes, you are wrong. "Chronic" means it lasts a long time. It need not be high level at all.
    – GEdgar
    Sep 29, 2016 at 21:18
  • 1
    Just a comment for people not familiar to medical descriptions of diseases. There are three general terms used for describing the behaviour of diseases: acute (the disease appearing suddenly and quickly), chronic (the disease lasts a very long time, typically the lifespan of the person) and severe (the disease affects the person very extremely). Some diseases may have several of these behaviours - SARS for example is both a Severe and Acute form of Respiratory disease.
    – slebetman
    Sep 30, 2016 at 0:33

I think the word closest to this meaning is chronic. It doesn't necessarily mean lifelong, but it does imply that no cure is on the horizon. Merriam-Webster has:

marked by long duration or frequent recurrence : not acute


"Chronic" illness should work.

  • 1
    Thrice! Evidently great minds think alike! Sep 29, 2016 at 17:32
  • 1
    @Peter Point What is one more than thrice?
    – ab2
    Sep 29, 2016 at 17:54

Historically people have either been acutely ill (an immediate but potentially curable problem e.g. kidney stones) or chronically ill, the latter meaning something that people can live with but where the symptoms cannot be substantially relieved (e.g MS or Parkinson's disease)

Recently I have heard a lot of mention of life-changing injuries. I am not sure if that term can be applied to illnesses as well.


Let me suggest "incurable", since "chronic" (which is what first came to mind) does not speak to whether it can be cured or not, merely that it is steady-state. Clearly you don't like "incurable" since you asked for a replacement, but it may be the closest to the meaning you want.


Depending on the actual nature of the illness, another possibility is congenital, which means a condition that is present from birth, whether due to environmental or genetic causes.

While not not all congenital conditions are incurable, some are, and if you are talking about an adult when you say they have a congenital condition, it strongly implies that it it is difficult or impossible to cure, because they've had it since infancy and still have it as an adult.

Congenital also can mean "inherent in one's nature" which implies that one is stuck with the condition and can't change it, as when someone is called a "congenital liar".

  • "Congenital" implies, as you suggest, a condition present from birth. In some cases the condition can be corrected through surgery, and in some other cases the condition may never "surface" as an overt disease. And modern medicine, in a few cases, can actually use genetic engineering to "cure" the condition.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 30, 2016 at 2:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.