A vast portion of the world’s population live with ill health following acute infection or disease and its emergency management. This reflects the increased capacity of technological innovations and pharmaceuticals to interrupt decline or complications, even when cure is unlikely. The authors in this Special Section illustrate how, in different localities, people live with risk for themselves or their offspring; with non-communicable, degenerative, autoimmune, and congenital conditions; with the after-effects of diagnostic procedures and surgical interventions; and with continued treatment and surveillance. We attend to the value of conceptualising this as ‘living under’ diagnosis or description. We illustrate how diagnostic labels overdetermine subsequent embodied states of being, structuring interactions and social relations with family, friends, and health professionals. Living under diagnosis, we argue, impacts on self-care, care for and by others, everyday lives, and anticipations of the future.