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Keywords:

  • chronic illness;
  • chronic condition;
  • visible conditions;
  • invisible conditions;
  • stigma;
  • disclosure;
  • non-disclosure

Stigma of visible and invisible chronic conditions

Nurses deliver care to people with various forms of chronic illnesses and conditions. Some chronic conditions, such as paraplegia, are visible while others, such as diabetes, are invisible. Still others, such as multiple sclerosis, are both visible and invisible. Having a chronic illness or condition and being different from the general population subjects a person to possible stigmatization by those who do not have the illness. Coping with stigma involves a variety of strategies including the decision about whether to disclose the condition and suffer further stigma, or attempt to conceal the condition or aspects of the condition and pass for normal. We present a beginning framework that describes the relationship between the elements of stigma and the decision to disclose or hide a chronic condition based on its visibility or invisibility. The specific aims were to combine the results from a meta-study on qualitative research with a review of the quantitative literature, then develop a theoretical framework. Although an understanding of how patients cope with stigmatizing conditions is essential for nurses who aim to deliver comprehensive individualized patient care, there is little current literature on this subject. The relationship between visibility and invisibility and disclosure and non-disclosure remains poorly understood. A framework to facilitate a deeper understanding of the dynamics of chronic illnesses and conditions may prove useful for practice.