By Helen Varvi, Deputy Director
Half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease, and about 100 million Americans – one in three people – have ongoing pain, often referred to as chronic pain. An average of 7 in 10 deaths annually are due to chronic diseases. Conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer are among the most common, costly, and preventable health conditions facing Americans, especially older adults. In fact, pain is the most common reason people visit their doctor.
But recent surveys of older Americans indicate that they are taking more proactive steps to improve their overall health – things like daily exercise and setting realistic health goals. And when these goals are supported by loved ones or caregivers, they are more likely to be reached.
What is a chronic condition?
Chronic conditions are long-term medical conditions that require ongoing management and treatment. These conditions can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and may include symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and limited mobility.
Common chronic conditions include diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Chronic conditions often require a team approach to management, including health care providers, caregivers, and family members.
Treatment may include medication, lifestyle changes, and ongoing monitoring. While chronic conditions can be challenging to manage, many people with these conditions are able to live full and meaningful lives with the right support and care.
How do chronic conditions develop?
Chronic conditions can develop for a variety of reasons, including genetics, lifestyle factors, environmental factors, and aging. Some chronic conditions, such as certain types of cancer and heart disease, may have a genetic component, meaning that a person’s risk of developing these conditions may be influenced by their family history. Lifestyle factors like poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking can also increase the risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or pollution, may also play a role in the development of chronic conditions. In addition, as people age, their risk of developing chronic conditions increases, as the body’s natural defenses against disease begin to weaken.
Many chronic conditions develop slowly over time, and may not be noticeable until symptoms begin to appear. Regular check-ups and screening tests can help identify chronic conditions early, allowing for earlier treatment and better outcomes. Managing chronic conditions often requires ongoing care and lifestyle changes, as well as a commitment to monitoring symptoms and managing any complications that may arise.
Examples of chronic conditions
Some common examples of chronic health conditions include:
- Diabetes. A condition where the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar levels, resulting in high blood sugar. Diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and vision loss.
- Heart disease. A group of conditions that affect the heart, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Heart disease can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart attacks.
- Arthritis. A condition that causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Arthritis can make it difficult to perform daily activities and may lead to permanent joint damage.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. COPD is often caused by smoking and can lead to serious complications, such as respiratory failure.
- Cancer. A group of diseases characterized by the abnormal growth of cells. Cancer can occur in many parts of the body and can lead to serious health complications if left untreated.
These are just a few examples of the many chronic health conditions that people may experience. Each condition requires careful management and ongoing medical attention to prevent complications and improve quality of life.
7 Ways to Manage Chronic Conditions
Here are some tips about things to do to manage or even prevent your chronic conditions:
1. Stop smoking
Stopping smoking (or even better, never starting) lowers the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and lung disease, as well as premature death—even for longtime smokers. So it is never too late to stop. Take the first step to becoming tobacco-free with help from the NJ Quitline. Call 1-866-NJ-STOPS for FREE resources.
2. Have excellent medication management
Many chronic conditions require ongoing medication, and managing that medication can be challenging. Understanding how to take medication correctly, managing side effects, and ensuring that medications don’t interact with each other can all be important parts of managing chronic conditions.
3. Build a reliable support system
Building a support system can be an important part of managing chronic conditions, whether it’s through family, friends, or support groups.
4. Practice stress management
Chronic diseases and chronic pain can often be exacerbated by stress. Learning how to manage stress through techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or therapy can be an important part of managing chronic conditions.
5. Work through mental health issues
Chronic conditions can also take a toll on mental health, and it’s important to address both physical and mental health in managing chronic diseases. Treatment for conditions like anxiety and depression can improve the overall quality of life for people with chronic conditions.
6. Pursue pain management
Chronic pain is a common symptom of many chronic diseases, and managing that pain can be a key part of overall disease management. Pain management techniques can include medication, physical therapy, or alternative treatments like acupuncture.
7. Ensure access to health care
Regular doctor visits and preventive screenings are crucial for managing chronic conditions, but not everyone has equal access to health care. Issues like cost, transportation, and lack of insurance can all make it harder for people to manage chronic conditions effectively.
Senior Sense: Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out our other blogs to learn more about senior health.
For more information, or to book a program for your community, please contact Helen Varvi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels