When an accident occurs or there’s a need for surgery, it’s generally believed that once you’re healed, the problem ends. However, if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or arthritis, that’s a diagnosis that may need to be dealt with on a day-to-day basis for the rest of your life.
Achronic illness is defined as a condition that lasts a year or longer. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes and heart disease are considered chronic illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.
Many chronic diseases are the result of autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. When an autoimmune disease is present, it means the body’s own immune system decides healthy cells are the enemy and attacks them.
The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease estimates that 45 percent of the adult population in the United States has at least one chronic disease. But just because you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to manage your condition or lessen its side effects. Read on for some valuable ways to deal with five of America’s most common chronic illnesses.
5 Ways To Live With Chronic Illness
Ask questions. Learn as much as you can about your illness or disease. There are a variety of helpful and credible websites: The Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with various associations and foundations dedicated to a particular illness.
Become a partner with your doctor, not just a patient. Prepare for doctor’s visits like you would for important meetings. Write down questions so you don’t forget. Discuss your medications thoroughly, and be sure you understand the side effects or warning signs that indicate problems.
Make it a family issue. Be sure family members understand your needs and are aware of what you should and shouldn’t be doing, eating or drinking.
Be aware of depression. Symptoms of depression can often go overlooked when big changes are taking place in your life. Unfortunately, though, it often accompanies the diagnosis of a chronic illness.
Work toward acceptance from day one. When acceptance comes, it’s easier to take on the daily tasks of managing your health care.
It’s estimated that as many as 16 million people in the United States have diabetes, and it’s a serious, lifelong condition. The biggest problem is many of these people don’t even realize they have diabetes, and it’s usually not diagnosed until damage has already occurred from the disease.
Diabetes affects your metabolism, causing the body not to properly process glucose, which provides the main fuel for the body. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, like those with diabetes mellitus or juvenile diabetes. An autoimmune disease, this type of diabetes requires close monitoring of blood sugar and daily injections of insulin.
Symptoms Of Type 1
Excessive thirst and frequent urination
Rapid weight loss
Most people diagnosed with diabetes have type 2, especially adults who are overweight and over the age of 40. With type 2, the pancreas produces insulin, but the body doesn’t use it effectively, causing a significant rise in blood-sugar levels. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop slowly, so they’re not as noticeable as the problems that occur with type 1.
Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes
Frequent urination, especially at night
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and most often disappears when the pregnancy ends. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
If left untreated, diabetes can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, nerve damage and even amputation of limbs. It’s estimated that almost $100 billion is spent every year on treatment and care, and it’s one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.
Normal blood sugar before eating should be 70 to 130 mg/dl. One to two hours after eating, it should be less than 180 mg/dl. Your doctor should test your A1C level every three to four months and your A1C level should never be above 7 percent.
5 Ways To Live With Diabetes
Educate family members. Be sure they know the signs of low blood sugar or they’re able to test your blood sugar level if you’re not feeling well.
Peppermint can boost energy and make exercise easier. Putting a dab of essential oil on your towel can be an instant pick-me-up.
Make foot care really important. Check your feet nightly for cuts, swelling or color changes. If there is anything of concern, call a doctor. Invest in a good, supportive pair of walking shoes and wear them. Avoid heels or other shoes with no or little support.
Only drink alcohol while eating food. Alcohol can lower blood sugar. Women should drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day and men two.
If weight loss is a must for you, take it easy! Remember that three 10-minute walks are the same as one 30-minute walk.
When people speak of arthritis, they speak of it as one disease, but it’s actually more than 100 types of joint diseases. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this disease affects more than 53 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States. Many associate arthritis with old age and don’t believe the pain they’re experiencing could be arthritis. As a result, they don’t discuss it with their doctors and it goes undiagnosed.
Unfortunately, two of the main problems associated with arthritis are fatigue and pain, and these can occur at any time. Arthritis can also cause changes in your physical appearance and hinder the ability to do things you’ve always done. Something as simple as not being able to put a ring on due to swollen knuckles can feel overwhelming.
It’s important to be aware of your feelings and how the stress of arthritis is affecting your everyday life. If you begin to feel a sense of despair or hopelessness, get in touch with a mental health professional or look for a support group. People who are dealing with the same situations and experiences can often be a source of inspiration and comfort.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Joint pain and stiffness
Loss of range of motion
5 Ways To Live With Arthritis
Try the Mediterranean Diet to reduce inflammation. Shoot for nine servings a day of fruits and veggies, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and tuna, plenty of nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, and extra virgin olive oil, which contains polyphenols.
Take frequent breaks to move around and avoid stiff joints. Be aware of which joints are tender, and avoid putting further stress on them. Take breaks from extended typing sessions as well.
If you smoke, quit. It affects the connective tissue in joints. Lose weight. More weight on the joints means more pain.
Exercise regularly to keep joints moving, build muscle and add strength. Be sure it’s low-impact exercise that doesn’t strain joints. Try water exercises, walking or cycling.
Worry, stress and tension make pain worse. When pain occurs, use heat or cold to help deal with it. Hot showers or baths, heating pads or ice packs can help ease pain and make you more comfortable.
Digestion problems include everything from acid reflux to constipation. Once again, many of these disorders are autoimmune diseases. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid or contents rise up into the esophagus. Heartburn and indigestion can occur at any time, but when it happens more than twice a week, more effective steps should be taken. A variety of over-the-counter remedies can help, but if problems persist, tell your doctor.
Symptoms of GERD
Dry cough and/or hoarseness and a sore throat
Feeling a lump in your throat
A burning sensation in your chest that sometimes spreads to your throat
Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflex)
5 Ways To Live With GERD
Avoid clothes that fit tightly around the waist.
Practice stress-relief techniques like deep breathing or yoga. Relieving stress may help alleviate some symptoms.
Practice better hygiene, too. Washing hands often helps keep dangerous bacteria out of you and off your food.
If you smoke, quit. It lowers the esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.
Watch your diet, and watch your intake. Avoid foods that cause bloating and gas, including carbonated drinks, milk, high-sugar foods, beans, cabbage, etc. Drink plenty of water, add fiber to your diet and eat smaller portions. Don’t lie down after eating, and elevate the head of your bed. Avoid acidic foots like citrus, tomatoes, caffeine and spicy food. Know your food triggers, and stay away from them.
…Chronic Back Pain
Pain is the most common reason for doctor’s visits. The American Academy of Pain Medication estimates that more people suffer from chronic pain than those with diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. And lower back pain is one of the most frequent complaints. Whether you work at a desk all day or your work involves physical labor, pain can be an issue. There are ways to deal with it, though.
Reduce that stress by practicing yoga and meditation. Not only will it relieve the stress, it will also help stretch tense, tight muscles.
Maintain a healthy diet, and drink a lot of fluids. Water is the best choice for a drink, as there is no sodium, calories or caffeine in it. Easy-to-digest foods are easier on pain as well. So think leafy greens, asparagus and low-sugar fruits like cherries.
Sleep on a quality mattress. A night of tossing and turning just adds to your misery. You can try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a few pillows under you as well.
Take the time to relax but also take the time to exercise. Having a healthy balance will keep you moving, causing less pain. At the same time, the exercise will strengthen your body and make you feel energetic and positive.
Consider alternatives. Talk to your doctor if you don’t feel better after four weeks. Ask about physical therapy, chiropractic care, yoga, massage, acupuncture or other treatments.
Headaches become a chronic condition when they’re experienced more than 15 times per month over a three-month period and they’re not caused by any other condition.
Like many chronic conditions, headaches can affect your daily schedule. Frequent absences from work are always bad news, and trying to work through the pain often means ineffective output. Begin keeping track if you have two or more headaches a week, if you take a pain killer almost every day, if you need more than the recommended dose of an OTC pain reliever or if your headache pattern changes or appears to be getting worse.
See A Doctor Immediately
If A Headache:
Is sudden and severe
You have a fever, stiff neck, seizure, double vision, weakness, difficulty speaking or feel confused
Occurs after a head injury.
Gets worse after pain meds and rest
5 Ways To Live With Chronic Headaches/Migraines
Lavender is great for headaches because it’s shown to promote relaxation. Place a potted lavender plant near your bed or in your office to stay relaxed. You could also use essential lavender oil or light a lavender-scented candle.
Take a steam shower. If your bath has a vent, turn it off. Let the steam stay in the hot shower, and let the water hit your head. It relieves the stress.
Avoid nitrates and MSG-enhanced foods, as they are often headache triggers. That means keep caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and aspartame to a minimum to help reduce the number of headaches.
Botox injections are FDA-approved for treating chronic migraines. Expensive, but it works. Injections are once every 12 weeks.
Keep a headache diary. Every time you get a headache, write it down, along with what you did and ate in the hours leading up to the headache. This will help you keep track of your triggers so you can avoid them in the future.
Sources: webmd.com, arthritistoday.org, health.com, healthywomen.org, healthline.com