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Managing a Chronic Condition

Almost one in two Americans--or 133 million of us—have chronic conditions, according to the CDC. Some conditions, such as heart disease and asthma, are critical or potentially life-threatening. Others, including arthritis and allergies, are marked by ongoing pain or infection.

“In either case, these conditions can’t be cured, but they can be managed with medical treatment and active involvement by the person with the condition,” says Jim King, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. King recommends the following strategies for anyone with a chronic condition.

Find a doctor you trust

"One of the most important things you can do is partner with a doctor you feel comfortable with and whom you believe can provide excellent care for someone with your particular condition," Dr. King says. "This is true for anyone who seeks medical care, but it’s imperative for someone with a chronic condition to have a medical 'home' because of the need for ongoing treatment.”

Don’t forget the basics

Part of the treatment for chronic conditions involves adopting the same healthy lifestyle habits that are important for everyone: don’t smoke, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, and get enough sleep.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may fine-tune these recommendations by suggesting you follow a low-sodium diet if you have high blood pressure, for example, or that you do only low-impact exercise if you have arthritis.

Do the numbers

Know what measures your doctor uses to evaluate your condition and track them yourself. For example, if you have asthma, you need to know the peak flow numbers that indicate you should use your rescue inhaler. If you have diabetes, check your blood glucose level as directed and know what to do if the numbers hit a certain point. 

“Having equipment that lets you monitor your crucial indicators is one of the best ways to take charge of your self-care,” Dr. King says. “To keep your doctor informed, keep a log of your key numbers and how you responded to them—what medicines you took or activities you stopped.”

Get into a routine

If you take multiple medications for your condition, Dr. King recommends linking them to your daily routine. If you need to take a medication every night, put the pill bottle by your toothbrush after you brush your teeth in the morning.

Be aware of depression

“About 40 percent of people with chronic conditions also suffer from depression,” Dr. King says. “Knowing the signs of depression—such as experiencing a loss of pleasure, a significant drop in energy, or feeling sad or worthless for several weeks or more—will ensure you seek help if you could be depressed.”

Learn about your condition

The more you know, the easier it will be for you to know what’s happening to your body and the importance of sticking with your treatment plan. Ask your doctor to recommend reliable Web sites.

“Being an active participant in your health care decisions and the day-to-day management of your condition can make a significant difference in your health and quality of life,” Dr. King says. “Your doctor can recommend a treatment, but it’s really up to you to see it through.”