I have been diagnosed with a chronic disease – what now?
chronic disease
To prevent chronic diseases or catch them early, visit your doctor regularly for preventive services and take control of your own health. A proactive approach to health is the way to go.

Frequently the scenario is that you see your doctor for a routine check-up. The unexpected news is a diagnosis of high blood pressure or diabetes or high cholesterol or heart problems or emphysema or asthma or depression. Certain of these conditions may be reversible although others may not resolve even with interventions. You may have received a prescription for six months to control the condition and told to come for a check-up every four months. Or, you may have been living with your chronic condition for many years and your doctor is not satisfied with the control achieved.

Chronic diseases are not limited to older people – it can be diagnosed while you are young or middle-aged. In many instances the reality is that you may have felt healthy before the check-up or there may have been distinct symptoms like progressive shortness of breath, a lack of motivation to get up in the morning and life just having lost its lustre, or tiredness and being thirsty all the time. Now with a diagnosis made and medication prescribed, you are uncertain about what the future holds.

Why is the diagnosis so important – especially if you had no symptoms prior to the diagnosis but now taking the medication regularly, you just don’t feel great. What do you need to do in these circumstances?

Time to do a reality check!

Ask yourself – are YOU in control of managing your own health? And by taking control you may prevent these serious outcomes or sometimes even reverse the diagnosed condition. If you do not have any of these chronic diseases you may, by managing the risk factors, prevent chronic diseases from developing in the first place.

Why is it important to take control?

The identification of certain risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and cigarette smoking may in time have a negative effect on other important organs in the body that will really cause your quality of life and life expectancy to diminish.

Examples are:

  • High blood pressure can cause a stroke which may have a lasting effect
  • Diabetes can cause narrowing of arteries, and loss of limbs, it can contribute to heart attacks and failure of your kidneys to function normally, it can cause pain in your feet because of nerve damage and can cause blindness because of damage to the eye.
  • High cholesterol can narrow arteries and cause premature heart attacks.
  • Asthma from smoking can reduce the quality of life and cause emphysema.

So, what can contribute to the development of these risk factors? (I am sure that you already heard it many times – but this time please action it!)
Is your weight a little excessive for your height – in other words, is your Body Mass Index (BMI) too high? Your BMI should ideally be 24,9. At 25-29 is means that you are overweight and above 30 means that you are obese (fat). Remember to also measure your waist circumference at the level of your belly button. For men, it should be about 94 cm and for females 80 cm.

Your diet: Do you eat and drink healthy stuff? Fruit, vegetables, salads, whole grains, lots of fish, lean red meat, drink lots of water. Try the Mediterranean diet.

Are you a smoker? Quit smoking has health benefits even for long-time smokers. It lowers the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and lung disease, as well as premature death.

Did you cut back on your alcohol consumption? Keep to your daily “allowance” of 1 drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This allows you to prevent and to be able to manage high blood pressure, various cancers, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease. You do not have to stick to your daily allowance, rather only have a drink now and then!

Did you start an exercise programme? Regular physical activity can help you prevent, delay, or manage chronic diseases. Aim for moderate physical activity (like brisk walking or gardening) for at least 150 minutes a week.

Do you get enough sleep? You need at least 7 hours of sleep. Insufficient sleep can add to the risk of developing and poor management of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.

Do you rigorously take your medication as prescribed by your doctor? Do you have a device to home-check your blood pressure or blood sugar level or a peak flow meter to check if your asthma is controlled? And do you use it to know your status?

So, the meaning of all of this is that by following these guidelines you will personally be in control of your own health “budget” making sure that it “balances”.

But the medication will surely prevent these problems?

The medicine prescribed is only one component of the management programme. Your doctor would have alerted you to the important lifestyle changes. Heed to that part of the management. The reality is that your doctor’s prescription may help to control your underlying disease, however, prescription medication also has side effects that may impact your quality of life. Changing your lifestyle may improve the outcome and even control the underlying condition to where you can reduce the dosage of the medication or even discontinue using it – under the supervision of your doctor of course.

Finally

To prevent chronic diseases or catch them early, visit your doctor regularly for preventive services and take control of your own health. A proactive approach to health is the way to go!

Dr. Martin de Villiers is a Medical Doctor and the Medical Director at Medwell SA – The Home Healthcare Specialists, offering various services countrywide.

For more information, send an e-mail to info@medwell.co.za

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