March 2, 2010 in Features

Health management proves vital for chronic diseases, too

Dr. Alisa Hideg

An athletic, otherwise healthy friend of mine in her 20s was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She has dealt with this news bravely in spite of the initial shock, but she has also responded with an aggressive attitude – that it will not get the better of her. Exercise, diet, a positive outlook, support from her friends and family and consistent follow-up with her doctors are all part of her plan to stay healthy.

Have you ever been told that you have a chronic disease like diabetes, arthritis, colitis or asthma? Getting such news can be difficult because it is easy to imagine the worst possible outcomes or to picture your life in terms of this diagnosis.

When I share such news with patients, I try to communicate that there are things they can do to reduce symptoms and the need for some medications, and to prevent complications.

Preventing disease is always preferable to treating it, but sometimes these illnesses happen despite our best efforts.

Chronic diseases are usually conditions that develop over time, although some happen suddenly. There are many diseases for which modern medicine does not yet have any cure.

How people decide to manage their health makes all the difference in how a chronic condition impacts their lives. You can learn about how to manage whatever condition you have. If you have a loved one with a chronic disease, you can help that person learn how to do the same.

It starts with learning everything you can about your diagnosis, what kind of monitoring is recommended and which medications are helpful for symptoms and for preventing complications.

You need to know what each medication is for and how and when to take each one. I recommend that patients bring an accurate list of medications and supplements they are taking to all medical appointments. It is important that you discuss everything you are doing with your doctor.

I always try to discuss supplements and alternative ways of staying healthy or getting healthier (exercise, diet, alternative therapies) with my patients. Some supplements and vitamins can make a difference in certain diseases and sometimes people have tried things that work for them.

There are many support groups for people with chronic diseases. Some of these are online, which makes it easier for anyone with a busy schedule.

Among the workshops that you can take here in Spokane or online to help you learn to self-manage your chronic disease:

•Group Health, Living Well With Chronic Conditions In-Person Workshops (open to anyone). Call (800) 992-2279 to register.

•Community Health Association of Spokane, Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP). Call (866) 840-2427.

•Stanford School of Medicine, Internet Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. Get more information here.

These programs teach you methods for dealing with things like frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation.

You can learn appropriate exercises for maintaining and building strength, flexibility and endurance; make sure you know how to appropriately use your medications; find out how to communicate effectively with family, friends and health professionals about your condition; get tips on healthy eating; get better at making informed treatment decisions; and improve your ability to solve disease related problems.

Most of all, it helps to stay in touch with your health care providers and make sure they stay in touch with each other about treatment questions and decisions.

It may sound like this is a lot to do to manage a diagnosis like diabetes or asthma, but it is worth it. Patients who learn to self-manage their chronic diseases have fewer trips to the emergency room, are admitted into the hospital less frequently and spend fewer days in the hospital.

People who take a proactive approach to their diagnosis also tend to have fewer complications and less depression. When you take some control of what is happening with your body, you are the one who benefits in every way.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email