Coping with Chronic Conditions

Living with chronic conditions and illnesses — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — can make life exhausting, painful and, even on a good day, just plain uncomfortable. Medications that help you manage these conditions may also be accompanied by unpleasant side effects. But if you’re dealing with one of these conditions, don’t despair! There are steps you can take to ease the discomfort, and over-the-counter (OTC) products that can provide some relief.

High Blood Pressure
Now is a good time to get your blood pressure tested if you haven’t done so in a while — and to get friends and family to do the same. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three American adults has high blood pressure. There are often no signs or symptoms, so testing is the only way to know if your numbers are too high.

Blood pressure levels contain two numbers: the top (systolic) and the bottom (diastolic). For otherwise healthy adults, normal blood pressure levels should be 120/80 mmHg or below.

High blood pressure can often be managed easily, but it is a serious condition that can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other problems if ignored. In 2010, high blood pressure was the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 360,000 Americans.

If your blood pressure is too high, your healthcare provider can help you set a reasonable goal for lowering it. Some of the things you may need to do to reach your target could include achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight; quitting smoking if you are a smoker; reducing sodium; managing stress; eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, transfats and cholesterol; limiting the amount of alcohol you drink; and taking blood pressure medications.

High Cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. But not all cholesterol is bad. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is what causes people trouble, can lead to heart disease and should be kept below 100 mg/ dL. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good because it protects against heart disease by removing cholesterol from the body, and this number should be at least 40 mg/dL.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 73 million American adults have high LDL levels, for which less than half are being treated. The CDC reports that fewer than one in three American adults has the condition under control.

Eating a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet and being overweight and physically inactive can cause LDL levels to rise. But sometimes high LDL levels are just hereditary. While there’s nothing you can do about the hereditary factor, you can lower LDL levels, regardless of how they got to be high.

Reducing the fat, transfat and cholesterol and increasing the soluble fiber in your diet, exercising more, maintaining a healthy weight and drinking alcohol in moderation can all help to lower LDL levels. But sometimes medications, such as statins, are needed in addition to lifestyle changes.

Exercise is the best way to raise HDL levels. Consult your healthcare provider to find the best and most appropriate exercise plan for your fitness level.

Diabetes
If you have diabetes, controlling blood glucose levels is critical to preventing or delaying complications such as kidney disease, nerve damage that can lead to amputations, even eye and gum disease. Having diabetes is also a major risk factor for heart disease.

People with diabetes can keep blood glucose levels under control by eating a healthful diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, losing weight (if you are overweight) and exercising rigorously at least 150 minutes a week. Sometimes, however, lifestyle changes alone do not lower blood glucose levels sufficiently. If this is true in your case, your provider can prescribe one or more of a wide range of glucose-lowering medications.

What To Do If You Have Side Effects
“Every medication can have a side effect, but in many patients, side effects don’t occur,” says James T. Willerson, MD, President of the Texas Heart Institute. If they do, however, an experienced doctor can adjust the dosage or switch to another medication that is better tolerated.

“There are many ways to skin a cat here!” Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy to trigger your mouth to make more saliva can alleviate minor side effects, such as dry mouth. Ask your pharmacist about OTC medications that can help with constipation, skin rashes and headaches. For more serious side effects, consult your provider.