Chapter 4 : Knowing Different Illness to Fight Them

Dealing with Chronic Illness

There are many challenges you will have to face when dealing with chronic illness. If you have been diagnosed with having a long lasting health condition, then understanding it and learning what you can do yourself to manage it, can help greatly.

Having a chronic illness doesn’t have to mean that it is dangerous or deadly, asthma, diabetes and arthritis are all classed as chronic conditions that can be kept under control with medication and supervision. Providing you take care and have the proper treatment, people with these conditions can lead a normal life and are healthy for the majority of time. Although the underlying condition won’t go away and is always there, it can be controlled successfully.

Many people who have conditions such as asthma don’t consider themselves as having a chronic condition as they feel relatively well most of the time and think of their illness as more of a condition. However, a few people are affected not only physically but also emotionally, socially and for some even financially. The severity of the way it affects you is based on the severity of your condition and the treatment involved in your particular condition. However you are affected by your condition it will take time to accept and adjust to your chronic illness.

There is a certain process that everyone will go through whatever their illness, this is known as the coping process. When first diagnosed with chronic illness the person may have many different feelings, anger, worry, confusion and vulnerability are some of the most common feelings. The next stage to the coping process is the want to know and learn everything they can about their illness, by gaining insight and knowledge into their condition it makes it less frightening and they feel more in control.

The third stage is developing confidence in the treatment they have been given for their condition. Realizing that their medication or treatment will help to relieve symptoms and attacks such as those associated with asthma and low blood sugar levels. Over time managing the condition becomes second nature and worry and fear drop off as the person becomes more confident with their self-management.

Everyone will go through the stages of coping at their own rate, recognizing the various feelings and thoughts as you go through different stages is important and are all part of the coping process. To help you get through the coping process you should remember these tips.

Accept any feelings and thoughts – there are many emotions you may go through during the coping stage, it is important that you just let them come and go without giving them too much thought. Letting the feelings out by talking with someone can be a great release.

Ask questions and play an active role in self-care – make sure that you know everything about your illness that you possibly can, the unknown can be frightening, but what we know we can deal with much better. Learn what you can do to help your condition and what to do during the bad times of it.

Talk about your condition – remember other family members or loved ones will probably be going through similar feelings as you are after the diagnosis. Talk with family members and loved ones about your condition, don’t leave them out of the loop

Keep a perspective – when first diagnosed it can be easy to let your illness take over your life and become the most important thing, keep things in perspective and carry on living your life just as you did before.

Understanding and preventing asthma

Asthma is a condition that affects the small tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs, an irritant usually triggers an asthma attack and irritants can vary from person to person. During an attack the muscles around the airways become increasingly narrower and the lining swells, sticky mucus can also build up in the airways which cause further narrowing and the problems associated with asthma, namely a difficulty in breathing.

There are a variety of reasons why people develop asthma, but there are certain factors that can cause it such as :

  • If you have a family history of asthma or allergies
  • Environmental factors such as changes in hot and cold
  • Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of your child developing asthma
  • If you smoke then you are more likely to develop asthma
  • Environmental pollution
  • Allergies to pets
  • The onset of asthma can develop after a viral infection
  • Irritants found within the workplace

The most common signs and symptoms of asthma vary from person to person in severity with some people experiencing some of the symptoms all the time to some extent, while others only from time to time, they include:

  • Coughing uncontrollably
  • Developing a wheeze due to the restriction of the airways
  • A shortness of breath
  • A tight feeling around the chest

Asthma cannot be cured but it can be treated and kept under control very successfully, there are many types of medication that can help you to successfully keep your asthma under control. Medications are divided into different categories which depending on the severity of your asthma you might have to use a combination of them. Categories include

  • Inhalers that prevent asthma
  • Inhalers that relieve asthma
  • Steroid tablets
  • Spacers
  • Nebulisers
  • Complementary therapies

A preventer will do exactly as the name suggests help to prevent attacks of asthma, it is important to use them everyday as prescribed, even if you are feeling well. They don’t help to relieve the feelings of an asthma attack such as breathlessness or tightness of the chest and most usually contain a very low dose of steroid.

Everyone who has asthma will have been prescribed a reliever; the reliever is designed to quickly ease the symptoms of asthma during an attack. The medication in the reliever will help to open the airways again making breathing much easier, it is important that if you have been prescribed an inhaler then you always make sure you have it near you.

If you have an infection and suffer from asthma then your Doctor may give you a short course of steroid treatment along with a course of antibiotics while you overcome the infection. A very few of those suffering from asthma do occasionally need to take steroids long term.

Spacers and Nebulisers are two ways that help you take your reliever medication more easily; spacers are usually given to children with asthma while Nebulisers allows you to continually inhale medication through a mask and is helpful during a particularly bad attack of asthma. 

Living and coping with diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that can increase the risk of developing other problems with the health. However there are many ways you can help to keep your diabetes under control and lead a relatively normal life. Living a healthy lifestyle, attending check up appointments and managing your blood sugar levels successfully, go a long way to your success in dealing with this illness.

Monitoring blood sugars

In order to maintain your diabetes successfully it is essential that you are able to monitor your own blood sugar levels. There are a variety of home machines that you are able to buy to give you accurate indications of the level. Self monitoring has the advantages of letting you be aware when your level is too low, will allow you to monitor your level during times of sickness and gives you confidence in the ability to successful keep your diabetes under control.

The best way to get accurate readings is to monitor your levels at different times during the day or week. The small machines designed to be used in the home are very easy to use and include everything you need to stay on top of the disease and help you to control it.

Get a check-up

Attending regular check ups is also a necessity, check ups are usually made every 3-months, 6-months or yearly and help to prevent complications from diabetes and make sure you are controlling it successfully during the absence of check-ups. During a check-up you will have blood tests to monitor your glucose level, test your level of cholesterol, and have your blood pressure checked and your feet and nerves. You should also schedule an eye examination to check for any damage to the back of your eyes.

Other risks

You are more at risk of developing other illnesses along with your diabetes, such as heart disease and problems with your circulation so it is imperative that you look after your overall health. Maintaining a healthy diet can go a long way to helping you keep your condition under control; you should eat at regular intervals and include low in fat while being high in fiber content. It is very important that you watch the amount of sugar you eat in your diet and also restrict the amount of salt you use in cooking and on food.

Developing an exercise routine is also good for your condition, not only will it help to keep your blood sugar level stable, but will also help you to maintain a healthy weight.

If you have diabetes then you shouldn’t smoke or drink alcohol, smoking increases the risk of developing many other illnesses. If you do drink then keep it to a minimum and never drink alcohol on an empty stomach as this could lead to hypoglycemia.

You should also buy home kits for testing your level of cholesterol and blood pressure, the ideal for blood pressure is around 130/80 and your cholesterol level should be below 4.0 if you suffer from diabetes.

Preventing carpel tunnel syndrome

The bones and other tissues in your wrist help to protect your median nerve; together they form a narrow tunnel that is known as the carpel tunnel. Your median nerve is what gives you feeling in your fingers but occasionally ligaments and tendons get swollen and become painful as they press against the median nerve. When this happens your hand hurts or even becomes numb and you develop an extremely painful condition know as carpel tunnel syndrome.

Carpel tunnel syndrome most commonly affects people who do the same movements with their hands continually. Those who more at risk include typists, carpenters, grocery packers and assembly line workers, people with hobbies such as gardening, needlework, golfing and canoeing are also more at risk of developing the syndrome. It has also been linked with illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis and thyroid disease and women in the last few months of pregnancy can develop it.

The first signs that indicate you might be suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome include

  • Tingling or numbness felt in your hands and fingers, especially around the index, middle fingers and thumb.
  • Pain in the palm of your hand, forearm or wrist
  • The pain or numbness is worse at night than it is during the day
  • The pain gets worse the more you use your hands
  • You have trouble gripping things and drop them more often
  • Your thumb feels particularly weak

Your doctor will perform an examination of your hand, fingers and wrist to help determine whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome and may include a nerve conduction test to help the diagnosis. If carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, treatment will usually consist of you having to wear a splint, and give your wrist a rest and change the way you use your wrist. The splint can help to alleviate the pain felt, particularly at night. Massaging the area of pain and putting ice onto the area can all help, as can performing stretching exercises. With treatment it is a condition that will improve, but there are some things you can do to help prevent the onset of carpel tunnel syndrome.

Increasing your awareness of how you use your hands and equipment throughout the day can make a change

Centering your work directly in front of you, your forearms should be parallel to the floor or slightly lowered

If you stand up to work then have your work bench at waist height

Make sure your hands and wrists are in line with your forearms

If you work long hours at a keyboard then titling it can help

Use proper hand and wrist movements when using a mouse and trackball

Make sure you hold your elbows in close to your sides

Never rest of the heel of your hand or wrist especially if you have them bent at an angle

Make sure that you take a slight break every 20 minutes

Do some stretching or flexing exercises every 20 minutes

Living with arthritis

While arthritis is usually considered to be a condition that affects the older generation, it can affect people of any age. It can affect any part of the body and there are thought to be over 200 different forms of the disease. However, the three most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis.

People who are affected by arthritis can go through many different feelings ranging from anger, frustration, worries for the future and concern about dependency. For the younger person affected by the disease feelings such as how other people will see you is a main concern, while the disease can be debilitating and so not easy to be positive about the outlook, people do come to terms with the condition. In order to come to terms with the disease you can

Talk about your feelings and fears – getting your feelings out in the open is essential to coping with your illness. Talking can relive the feelings of anxiety and stress you feel about your condition and how others see you. Your confidant can be your doctor, a friend or family member or someone that is suffering from arthritis themselves.

Learn how to relax and de-stress – many people who suffer from arthritis get stressed easily and are unable to relax. You should learn routines that allow you to relax quickly and easily or find an activity or hobby that you could take part in to ease and forget your stress.

Seek help from a professional – if you don’t feel you can talk to a family member or friend then seek help from a professional. This could be a counselor, doctor, social worker or your local citizen’s advice.

One of the most debilitating aspects of arthritis is the persistent pain it brings to the sufferer. However sufferers do seem to manage to keep the pain under control to a level where it doesn’t interfere too much with their day-to-day living. Here are some ways to help you deal with and manage the pain associated with arthritis.

Keep a note of the best time to take medication in order to get the best benefit

Notice when cold, heat and getting rest helps the most

See which form of exercise works best for you and when to do them

Keep practicing relaxation techniques

Take a pain management course

Purchase a device such as the TENS unit to help manage your pain

Consider hypnosis or acupuncture treatment

Attend pain clinics recommended by you Doctor.

These are just some of the ways that people have been known to successfully manage their arthritis and of course you should discuss ways to help you with your doctor. You doctor will also be able to advise you of clinics in your area that you can attend to learn how to deal more effectively with the disease and the pain that it brings.

Are you at risk from Alzheimer’s?

There is no one single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s is brought on by varying factors with each person affected being different. However, the biggest two factors which increase the risk of you developing Alzheimer’s are the advancement of age and heredity. Your degree of mental fitness and your environment are also thought to play a part to some extent - although this and several other theories have not yet been proven.. 

Who gets Alzheimer’s?

By the time you reach the age of 65, roughly 5 in 100 people have developed the disease, by the age of 80 the odds have jumped to 1 in 5 and almost half of all people at the age of 90 have some signs of dementia. Alzheimer’s isn’t strictly limited to those over the age of 65; much younger people have been affected by it. It is a disease that is thought to occur in women more than men, but the main reason for this is simply that women tend to live longer than men.

Alzheimer’s and heredity

There has proven to be a heredity link to Alzheimer’s in roughly 3% of all cases of the disease. Heredity is thought to occur when the onset of the disease has occurred at an early age, with about 40% of people who developed the disease before the age of 65 having family members affected by the disease. This does not mean that having a family member with Alzheimer’s will guarantee being affected by it.  Quite the contrary, although those with affected family members are at a slightly higher risk than others, there are still measures that can be taken to help avoid the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Avoiding Alzheimer’s

Many believe that the environment in which you live can make a difference as to whether you are more susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s. Research is currently being conducted as to whether exposure to certain metals is a contributing factor to developing the disease.  Many experts have tied aluminum as a possible cause of the disease and suggest that antiperspirant deodorants are avoided due to their high aluminum content.

Many doctors also believe that one’s state of mental health plays a large part in the onset of the disease.  The sharper one keeps oneself, the less susceptible one is to the disease.  However, there is not currently any evidence to suggest that staying mentally fit will make a difference one way or the other.

There are thought to be many other factors that could lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s, but additional research is needed due to there being a lot of conflicting evidence.  Factors to consider include, head trauma, various viral infections, a history of downs syndrome in the family, smoking and thyroid disease.

The future of Alzheimer’s

Unfortunately, there is not currently any particular test that doctors can use to indicate who may be more susceptible of developing the disease.  The primary goal in research right now is to understand better the mechanisms of the disease with the hope of one day being able to predict those people who are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s before the disease actually sets in. By doing so, scientists and doctors believe that it could lead to developments of treatment to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Dealing with allergies

It is possible to develop an allergy to almost anything; this could be a smell, food, medication or reactions to dander found on animals. An allergy can range from nothing more than an annoying itch to the more serious of going into shock after developing a severe reaction. Allergies are usually divided into different categories that include:

Eczema and urticaria – these are allergies which affect the skin; they include allergic skin rashes such as nettle rash and hives.

Hay fever – this condition causes reactions such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing and sore eyes during the summer months.

Venom allergies – these are reactions to stinging insects and snakes.

Adverse food reactions – people can be allergic to many different types of food.

Allergy to drugs – certain medications can cause a reaction in people; the usual reactions to drugs include a rash, sickness and stomach problems.

Anaphylaxis – a severe and sudden intense allergic reaction that affects the whole body.

Asthma – an allergic reaction that commonly affects the breathing.

Eye allergies – this can vary from very mild irritation to severe conjunctivitis.

Diagnosing allergies

If your doctor believes that you may have an allergy then steps will need to be taken to identify what is causing it, the allergen. The most common way of finding the allergen is to perform a skin prick test. The skin prick test is quick and relatively painless and the results are known immediately.

A small needle is used to gently prick your skin with the allergen; the test will usually be conducted on your forearm. You are determined to be allergic to the allergen if your skin becomes red, sore and itchy around the area the needle was inserted. It is also usual for the area to come up in a welt. If you have had no reaction to the allergen after a period of roughly 20 minutes then you aren’t allergic to that allergen.

If it is suspected that you have dermatitis - a form of eczema then you will normally be given a skin patch test, this test relies on taping patches with various allergens underneath aluminum discs. The discs are usually kept in place for a period of 48 hours and then assessed by a dermatologist for allergic changes.

Severe cases

In severe cases of allergy you might be required to have a challenge test to be performed in hospital. The suspected allergens are then introduced directly into the lungs or nose and the allergic reaction is then measured. If it is suspected that you might be allergic to food or foods then a double blind placebo test may be used. The food or foods that are thought to cause a reaction are given in a capsule under supervision, and then you wait to see if you develop a reaction to it. This type of test however is only done in extreme circumstances because despite it being the most reliable way it is also the most time consuming.

Alter Your Acne Problems

One of those dreaded 4-letter words is acne because it often calls to mind dreaded terms like: zits, pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, blemishes, clogged pores and unsightly skin. However, dreaded doesn’t have to mean hopeless, because there is hope.

Main causes of acne are known and often easily treatable. For example, blemishes often appear because of body chemistry changes during teen years, menstrual cycles and menopause. Other reasons are frequently due to too much bacteria clogging pores and over scrubbing of face to rid it of acne. 

Treatments include over the counter anti-acne over-the-counter solutions, prescription drugs and natural remedies. Some popular actions to take right away at home are:

  1. Get an exfoliating cleanser and some anti-acne soap from the local drugstore or supermarket and wash your face gently with them every day.  For best results, wash as soon as you get up in the morning and right before you go to bed at night. And do not squeeze pimples.
  2. Get an anti-acne facial mask at the drugstore or find a honey facial mask, for the disinfecting and healing qualities. Use the mask up to two times a week. 
  3. Check with your healthcare provider about adding a multivitamin to your daily routine and a chromium supplement.
  4. Keep hair back and away from your face, especially your forehead.
  5. Drink plenty of liquids daily; eight glasses of water is recommended most. And eat foods rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A to help with skin repair like carrots. 
  6. Avoid putting makeup, paints, etc. on your face, unless they are water soluble or marked as noncomedogenic types – and even then, go very light. And use a fresh, clean pillow case every day.
  7. If you go out in the sun, apply a minimal sunscreen with SPF 15.  And when possible, choose one that’s a noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic type so it doesn’t clog pores. Add a hat and sunglasses. And skip tanning beds.

Also in order to clear acne, it helps to clear up acne rumors. Here are some popular issues to clear up:

  • Greasy foods, stress and chocolates can cause and increase acne problems. This is a myth. There is no scientific connection here between these elements.
  • Squeezing your pimples can help get rid of them. This is also untrue. Squeezing can actually make matters worse, forcing infection further below the skin’s surface and can even cause scarring.
  • Being out in the sun can help dry up acne. This is not true. Too much sun can actually make things worse, adding dryness and irritation to your skin, not to mention wrinkles and skin cancer later in life.

Lowering your blood pressure

You should have your blood pressure tested at least every 2 years, because high blood pressure can lead to problems such as damaging your blood vessels. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, developing kidney failure and stroke. Having your blood pressure checked takes only a few minutes and should there be a problem your doctor can treat it and recommend changes to your lifestyle that you should follow.  Here are some simple tips to making changes in your lifestyle to keep your blood pressure within a normal range.

Stop smoking

If you smoke then you should try to quit, when you inhale the smoke from cigarettes and other tobacco products, your blood vessels become restricted and you will have a faster heartbeat. If your heart beats faster than this causes a temporary rise in your blood pressure, by quitting smoking you not only help to lower your blood pressure but you also reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Lose weight

Losing weight and getting enough exercise can help towards keeping your blood pressure down. If you are carrying too much weight around your heart will have to work harder and faster and this can cause your blood pressure to rise which increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke.

Limit your alcohol intake

Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink is also important, in some people alcohol raises their blood pressure by a lot, while others it doesn’t seem to affect as much. You should drink no more than 1 glass of wine per day or one can of beer and if your blood pressure does rise through drinking, then you should quit drinking altogether.

Avoid excessive sodium

Some people can be affected by sodium and it causes their blood pressure to rise. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure then it is important to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. You shouldn’t add extra salt to your food and always check food labels for the amount of sodium foods contain.

Lower stress levels

If you live a very stressful life and easily become stressed then this can cause your blood pressure to rise, it is important to learn ways of dealing with stress and not let it build up. There are many self-help techniques that you can learn to help you combat stress, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga and visualization.

Blood pressure medication

If your doctor has diagnosed you as having high blood pressure then along with making changes to your lifestyle - the most effective way of dealing with it - they might also prescribe medication. There are many different types of medication used in the treatment of high blood pressure.  In some cases, if your condition can only be controlled by medication, then it could mean that you have to take medication for the rest of your life to help keep your blood pressure under control. However the earlier you start making changes to your lifestyle towards leading a healthier life, through stopping smoking, getting enough exercise and eating healthy, the better your chances that you won’t need to be on medication for life.

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