Health Feature Articles
Managing chronic illnesses
Gail Carlson, MPH, Ph.D., Continuing Medical Education, School of Medicine, University of Missouri
Do you have a chronic health condition? Do you have a family
member or close personal friend with such an illness? A chronic
illness is defined as any disease that develops slowly and lasts
a long time. Some examples are diabetes, arthritis, emphysema, congestive
heart failure, and Alzheimer's disease. It can be distinguished
from an acute illness, which typically starts suddenly and is short
lived, for example, a cold or the flu. While chronic illnesses
are more common among older adults they can affect people of any
age including children. Taking an active role in managing your illness
can help you maintain a good quality of life despite your illness.
Equally important, it can help you feel better about yourself. Here
are some things to consider.
Practice secondary prevention. Secondary prevention
often involves the same strategies that are useful in primary prevention
-- increasing physical activity, eating more healthfully and smoking
cessation if you have been smoking. These actions can slow the progress
of a disease after it has occurred. Secondary prevention also strengthens
your entire body so you are fit and better able to fight off other
illnesses. Managing two chronic diseases at the same time is much
harder than managing one.
Learn to pace yourself. Some chronic illnesses result
in low energy and lack of stamina. Learn to work at a slow to moderate
pace and rest when you need to. Find easier ways to do things. Use
the time when your energy level is highest to complete difficult
tasks. A flexible attitude is also important. Is it really necessary
to clean your house every day? You might
have to reach a compromise that takes into consideration your standards
for neatness and your energy level.
Stay involved with family and friends. When you don't
feel well or your energy level is low, it may be more comfortable
just to stay at home. People with chronic illness are more
likely to turn down an invitation rather than admit to a friend
that they are going to need special food or a private place to
take medication. However, people who cut themselves off from
others are more likely to become depressed and are less able to
manage an illness. If you are a friend of an
individual with a chronic illness remember that it takes two to
maintain a relationship. You might need to make the first move.
Invite your friend to social gatherings and invite them again if
they refuse. This relationship is important to both of you. Don't
give up easily; communicate regularly.
Identify and use existing resources. Many associations
have good information that can help you manage your illness. For
example, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer
Society provide lots of good advice about how to manage illnesses
and how to compensate for the limitations that may be caused by
them. Some associations also provide financial assistance or other
kinds of resource assistance that can improve quality of life.
Become a wise health care consumer. Understand your illness, including the symptoms, the kinds of limitations it will cause and the things you can do to lessen its impact on your life. Find a health care provider that is good at treating your particular problem and then stick with him or her. Find out about new research and alternative or complementary treatments that might work. Make sure to discuss these with your health care provider. Finally, work with your provider to find a treatment plan that you can successfully carry out. Make sure to keep your provider informed about any problems you are having with the treatment and any changes in symptoms.
Last Updated 05/10/2010