What is chronic illness?

Chronic Illness
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Lifestyle changes for chronic health conditions: Overview

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or blood pressure or cholesterol problems, making healthy lifestyle changes can help. Changing your diet, getting more exercise, and getting rid of harmful habits can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems. Even small changes can help. Start with steps that you can take right away. Think about things such as time limits, stress, and temptations that might get in the way, and figure out how you can avoid or overcome them.

Work with your doctor to plan lifestyle changes to deal with your health problem.

How can you care for depression when you have a chronic disease?

Watch for symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression are often subtle at first. You may think they are caused by your disease rather than depression. Or you may think it is normal to be depressed when you have a chronic disease.

If you are depressed you may:

  • Feel sad or hopeless.
  • Feel guilty or worthless.
  • Not enjoy the things you used to enjoy.
  • Feel hopeless, as though life is not worth living.
  • Have trouble thinking or remembering.
  • Have low energy, and you may not eat or sleep well.
  • Pull away from others.
  • Think often about death or killing yourself.

Get treatment

By treating your depression, you can feel more hopeful and have more energy. If you feel better, you may take better care of yourself, so your health may improve.

  • Talk to your doctor if you have any changes in mood during treatment for your disease.
  • Ask your doctor for help. Counseling, antidepressant medicine, or a combination of the two can help most people with depression. Often a combination works best. Counseling can also help you cope with having a chronic disease.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

How can you find inner strength when you have a chronic condition?

Having a chronic condition can be stressful. And stress can make you feel anxious and out of control. That might mean you don't make the best decisions or take the best care of yourself.

But you have the power to deal with stress. It comes from tapping into your inner strength.

Inner strength helps you bounce back from stressful situations. When you're strong inside, you recover more quickly from setbacks or difficult changes. And you may find it a little easier to handle the daily challenges of living with a chronic health problem.

You may not feel strong all the time. That's understandable. Many people feel drained by the demands of their condition.

That's why it's important to look for things that help you feel stronger. Those sources of strength vary from person to person.

How others find strength

Some people draw strength from focusing on their values or beliefs. Some find it through prayer or meditation.

Others gain strength from serving others or from being outdoors. It can also come from being around people who care about you and support you.

People find all kinds of ways to recharge their inner strength. Some examples include:

  • Taking a walk in the park. This can be a quiet time to appreciate the beauty around you.
  • Planning a regular time to have coffee with friends. This can be a time to share personal struggles and give each other some support.
  • Spending time with family. It can help to lean on the people you're closest to, especially during tough days.

Do any of these ideas sound like something you'd like to try? Finding and tapping into your personal sources can fuel the inner strength you need to cope with your health problem.

You probably know someone who gets knocked down but doesn't stay down—who always manages to turn life's lemons into lemonade.

Where do you think that person finds strength? What can you learn from how that person handles hardship?

Finding strength in your past

You've overcome challenges in the past. Each time you face a tough situation, you learn a little more about yourself and where your strength comes from.

What fuels your inner strength? If you're not sure, it may help to think back to a stressful time in the past. What worked for you then might work for you now.

So ask yourself these questions, and write down your thoughts.

  • What helped me get through a hard time in the past?
  • What is something that could help me feel stronger now?

How do you conserve energy when you have a chronic condition?

Conserving, or saving, your energy means finding ways to do daily activities with as little effort as possible. With some planning, you can get daily tasks done more easily. For example, you can include rest periods in your day and try sitting on a high stool when you get dressed, do chores, or cook.

When do you need emotional support?

You might find getting support from others helpful when you have a long-term health problem. Often people feel alone, confused, or scared when coping with an illness. But you aren't alone. Other people are going through the same thing you are and know how you feel.

Talking with others about your feelings can help you feel better.

Your family and friends can give you support. So can your doctor, a support group, or a church. If you have a support network, you will not feel as alone. You will learn new ways to deal with your situation, and you may try harder to overcome it.

How can you work with your doctor to make care decisions when you have a chronic illness?

When you have a chronic illness, medical decisions may get more complex over time. Daily life can become more difficult. It's important for you and your doctor to keep working together to make decisions about your treatment.

You depend on your doctor to give you wise treatment advice. And your doctor depends on you to share what's most important to you.

With your health and quality of life in mind, you can problem-solve and plan with your doctor. You can also do this with other health providers and with the caregiving person or people in your life.

What is best for you?

How do you want your health care to make your life better? For you, maybe this means:

  • Feeling better, or not feeling worse than you do now.
  • Preventing a health problem from getting worse.
  • Being in good enough health that you can plan on an important event a few months from now.
  • Avoiding treatments or testing that make daily life more difficult.
  • Avoiding treatments that may not help or that you don't want.
  • Helping you get to the end of your life in comfort.

As a team, you and your doctor can decide what to treat and how to treat it. To start, you can think about questions like these:

  • What do I want my daily life to be like?
  • What care is most likely to improve or protect the quality of my life now? What about in the months to come?
  • What plans am I looking forward to in the next few months? How can my health care help me stay on track with these plans?

Your answers reflect what's most important to you right now. Remember them. And use them to guide the medical decisions you make with your doctor. Revisit your answers over time. They may change.

Chronic condition: How can you deal with physical causes of sexual problems?

A chronic condition can affect your sex life. There are options if your sexual problems have a physical cause. For example:

  • Hormones, medicines, or lubricants can help.
  • Special devices can aid erections.
  • Surgery can be done to improve blood flow.
  • Physical therapy can also be helpful for some types of pain or pelvic problems.

The important thing is to see your doctor and get the help you need.

Chronic condition: Doing a self-check

Adjusting to life with a chronic condition is a process.

It can be helpful to check in with yourself now and then to see how you're doing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. It might be helpful to answer these questions with someone you trust so you can get another point of view about how things are going. You may want to write down your answers so you can refer back to them.

  • Ask yourself about your plan.
    • How well have you been following your treatment plan?
    • Is anything getting in your way?
    • What's going really well? Is there something that you wish were going better?
  • Think about support.

    Who have you connected with that you could ask for support if you need it?

  • Check how you're doing.
    • How have you been sleeping?
    • Are you eating well?
    • Are you being as active as you'd like to be?
    • How is your mood? How well are you coping?
  • Reflect on your answers.
    You're doing well.

    If you feel good about how things are going, that's great. You've found ways of coping that work for you. You can keep building on those strategies as you go forward.

    You're not too sure.

    If you still feel a little unsure about how things are going, that's probably okay. There's no set timetable for adjusting to life with a chronic condition. Everyone finds their own ways of coping at their own pace. Think about a day when you felt more sure than you do today. What was different about that day?

    You're not happy about how things are going.

    If you feel that way, maybe you're having a bad day. That's normal from time to time. If it isn't just one bad day, it may help to think of an area where you've made progress. Give yourself credit for your part in what's going well. And maybe you could make a list of things you're grateful for. Focusing on the good things in your life may help you feel more hopeful. You might also want to think about what's helped you through other hard times. Is that something you could use this time to help you?

    Nothing is going well.

    If you feel sad or hopeless most of the time or you don't get pleasure from things you used to enjoy, tell your doctor. And reach out to someone who cares about you. Your health and happiness are important.

Self-checks can also help you recognize when you may need more help. This could keep a small problem from turning into a bigger one. Self-checks are a chance to reflect on how far you've come.

How can you make lifestyle changes for chronic health conditions?

  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. For many people, walking is a good choice. Or you may want to swim, bike, or do other activities. Bit by bit, increase the time you're active every day. Try for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Eat healthy foods.
    • Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and low-fat dairy foods.
    • Limit saturated fat and reduce salt.
  • Stay at a weight that's healthy for you. Talk to your doctor if you need help with this.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking can make most chronic health problems worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
  • Take your medicines on time and in the right amounts. Use a pillbox to organize them, and use schedules, alarms, or other tools to help you stay on track. For medicines to work properly, you must take them as directed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Get your blood pressure checked often. Get a cholesterol test when your doctor tells you to. And keep track of your blood sugar if you have diabetes.

Learning to be a good caregiver for someone with a chronic illness

Helping or caring for a loved one with a long-term (chronic) condition, such as COPD or heart failure, can feel like a lot to take on.

Sometimes it can be hard for people to accept help. Or they may choose not to accept help. So you may have to adjust the way you think, ask, listen, and respond. These tips might help.

  • Do your best to see things from your loved one's point of view.
  • Ask questions like "What do you need help with?" and "How do you like to do this?"
  • Offer new ideas gently.

    For example, ask "Would you like me to do your breathing exercises with you?" instead of "You need to do your breathing exercises."

  • Learn from your loved one what it means to have the best quality of life possible.

    Ask questions like:

    • "What do you consider a good day? What can we do to help you have more of them?"
    • "What are you looking forward to doing in the next few months? How can we keep your health on track with those plans?"
    • "What part of your care is hardest for you right now? How can you and I make that easier on you? Is there something your doctor can help with?"

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.