Advances in medicine have led to increased life expectancy and as our population lives longer, there is a higher likelihood of being afflicted with multiple health problems.
The increasing prevalence of risk factors such as tobacco use and physical inactivity are also contributing to the burden of having a population with multiple health problems. This in turn puts a strain on the affected person, his/her family and minimizes their contribution towards the development of society.
Living with multiple health problems is often challenging. Today I hope to give some advice on how to cope with a life with many health problems.
IS IT COMMON TO HAVE MULTIPLE HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Yes, it is common to have more than one ongoing health problem. Doctors call this having “multiple co-morbidities.” This is especially common in people as they get older.
Here are some medical conditions that often occur together:
High blood pressure
Arthritis or chronic pain
Depression or anxiety
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT MULTIPLE HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Sometimes, people with multiple health problems see different doctors about each of their problems. These doctors do not always realize how the problem they are working with fits into the “whole” of you. They might focus on your blood sugar level, but your first worry might be to stop the pain you have from arthritis when you walk.
Sometimes, treatment (such as exercise) for one problem can make another problem worse. And some medicines can help one problem but make another worse. Your doctors need to know which other doctors you are seeing, so they can work together to form the best plan of care for you. You can help them do that. Sometimes it’s best to not doctor shop. It may cause more harm than good and may lead to incomplete management of all your conditions.
Your best option is to find a reliable doctor who can manage your complaints and can refer you to others if you have a specific condition that requires their intervention.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE MULTIPLE HEALTH PROBLEMS?
If you have multiple health problems, do the following:
Work with your main doctor to decide what matters most to you when it comes to your care. Always remember that you can choose which treatments you want and don’t want. Think about these questions and talk to your doctor about your answers:
Which of your health problems bothers you most? Which one do you want to focus on first?
What matters most to you: living a long time, staying independent, or having the least amount of pain or other symptoms?
Are any of your treatments causing side effects or problems?
Plan for your doctor visits ahead of time. When you see your doctor, make a plan for what you want to discuss and come prepared with notes or questions. Do not try to do too much at once. If you need to, make more than one appointment.
Make sure that your main doctor, and any other doctor who prescribes medicines for you, knows about ALL of the medicines you take. This includes any over-the-counter or herbal medicines you use on a regular basis. It is also helpful to bring the actual bottles of pills you take to each visit, so your doctor can review them. Ask your main doctor to go over all your medicines with you at least once a year.
Keep a list of all the medicines you take; that includes the dose you take, your reason for taking it, and the doctor who prescribed it. Carry this list with you and bring it with you to all of your medical appointments.
Ask your doctor if there are things you can do on your own to deal with any of your health problems. Some medical problems get better with lifestyle or diet changes. If you can improve your condition with lifestyle changes, you might be able to avoid the risks and side effects of some of your medicines or treatments.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO ON MY OWN TO FEEL BETTER?
Yes. There are things that all people can do to improve their health. Here are some things you can do:
Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in sweets and processed flours. For example, choose whole grain breads and whole grain pastas over white bread or regular pasta.
Do some sort of physical activity most days of the week, and build up your activity level slowly. Even small amounts of activity done several times a day can help you get stronger.
Try to get enough sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or nurse about possible solutions.
If you feel depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor. Depression and anxiety can make other health problems hard to manage.
Plan activities with other people, so you aren’t stuck at home alone for days.
Having multiple health problems can sometimes be overwhelming. Family support and working with your doctor to sort them out over time are your best options to combat your situation.