Many Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and most rely on regular tests and treatments to be healthier, more comfortable and more productive.
But many people with chronic illnesses find it hard to keep up with prescribed treatments, such as daily pills for high blood pressure, peak flow meters for asthma, insulin for diabetes, and exercise treatments for arthritis.
Coping with a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment is difficult for people, particularly when they're first diagnosed. It's a shift from a carefree existence to having to depend on health care providers, medications, or other treatments.
Yet--if you don't mind a few challenges and enjoy solving problems--there are ways you can fit nearly any chronic disease management regimen into your lifestyle.
Visit respected medical sites on the Internet and read reliable books about your condition.
The more you learn about your condition and why your treatment is important, the more you can stay active and involved in your health care. Review your treatment goals with your health care provider during each visit to ensure that they're realistic. Before your visit, write down any questions you may have. Keep asking your questions until you are certain you understand the health care provider's answers. If you are uncomfortable about asking the health care provider questions, bring a trusted family member or friend to help you, and don't forget that nurses are excellent sources of information, too. Remember that your health, and perhaps your life, depends on clearly understanding your treatment plan.
Make it simple for yourself. What do you need to do in a 24-hour period? What pills do you need to take, when do you need to take them, what other treatments or tests do you need to self-administer, and when? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself in order to begin organizing.
Put your plan to use
Once you know your treatment plan, you can:
Purchase a plastic pillbox that has compartments for Monday through Sunday (if you take pills daily). If you fill the pillbox once a week, your sorting work is done.
Place your medical gear in a small case that goes with you wherever you go. Whether it's a glucometer or an asthma inhaler and spacer, having everything organized within your briefcase or purse makes it easier for you to be compliant.
Ask your health care provider if your medication regimen can be simplified. For example, is there a drug you could take only once a day instead of four times a day?
Enter it in your daily calendar. For example: "12:30 p.m.: Take brisk walk. 2 p.m.: Check blood sugar." When do you need to self-administer insulin? When do you need to use your inhaler or peak flow meter? Write it in.
Focus on chronic health
Many people get wrapped up in the medications, dietary restrictions, health tests, and the other lifestyle changes they may have to deal with for the rest of their lives, and they see it all as a negative. This is really all about chronic health, though, not chronic disease. This is what's going to sustain you and allow you to do what you want to do. Reframing the situation in this way is an effective coping skill that can be learned.
Enlist your loved ones' support
Explain your treatment routine to friends and family and tell them about your emergency plan, so that they can help when necessary. Ask them to help you stick to your treatment plan and encourage you to do the things you need to do to stay well.
Keep a journal
A journal can help you to track your symptoms and test results—such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure or blood sugar levels, peak flow meter readings, or body weight—and to record your feelings, questions, and concerns.
Many people obsess about their questions and concerns between their health care provider visits, but then forget them as soon as they put on an examination gown. Jotting things down in a journal and bringing it with you to health care provider visits can serve as a helpful reminder.
Consider joining a support group
Support groups can be extremely helpful for people with chronic illnesses, particularly when they are newly diagnosed. The interaction can improve your life in countless ways when you are able to share your feelings and experiences with a group of people who can relate to how your illness touches all facets of your life.
Organizations with local support groups for chronic illness include:
American Diabetes Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
American Cancer Society
American Heart Association
There are many other support groups for different types of chronic illnesses. Do an Internet search, ask your health care provider, or contact your local library and ask for assistance.
Work closely with your health care provider
If something changes in your condition, or if you're thinking about changing your prescribed treatment regimen, it is very important to discuss it with your health care provider before doing anything. Do not add anything to your treatment program, such as herbal remedies, without first checking with your health care provider. Many chronic illnesses require people to take medications, and it can be very dangerous to add over-the-counter drugs or herbal remedies when you are taking other medications. Your health care provider wants to help you stay well. Talk to him or her about how you can best take care of yourself and still do the things you want and need to do.