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How I Manage Living With Multiple Chronic Conditions

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I’ve been a “professional patient” as long as I can remember. If it wasn’t a doctor’s appointment, I was having lab work done, an MRI, CT or surgery. There are times when I wish I could get off the “medical merry-go-round” and just have a year without any more problems.

I’ve had Crohn’s since I was in sixth grade, wound up having ileostomy surgery as a senior in high school, and had a stroke at age 37. I developed deficits afterwards including short term memory loss, aphasia, cognitive issues, as well as very bad migraine attacks. My insurance denied coverage for the treatments that worked, so I had to do without.

In my late 40s, I developed painful lower back spasms that got worse over time throughout the day. I saw my primary care physician and he ordered a CT to see if there were any problems. It turned out I have arthritis starting in my lower back and that’s what has been causing my discomfort. The only thing I could take for it was lidocaine patches or a muscle relaxer. Fall and winter make the pain worse due to the colder temperatures.

Then I was dealing with a swollen right foot, ankle and leg which led to the diagnosis of venous insufficiency. I still have a DVT in my right leg, but my body made smaller veins over time, so there is blood flowing, but I still have to keep on eye on the area for pain and swelling.

It seemed so overwhelming having so many health issues as well as doctors. To make things easier for myself and my medical team, I decided to redo my list of medications. I sorted them by illness and put the names of the drugs underneath it. Then I listed all of my allergies and reactions. Afterward, I saved it to the computer and I update it monthly.

There are challenges in living with more than one chronic condition, but I’ve learned over the years to become proactive in my health care with these helpful tips.

1. Learn about your conditions. I’ve spoken to my doctor about what my illness is, how it’s treated, and how can I take control of the situation to get the symptoms under control. I’ll even ask where I can find more information to educate myself so I’ll be aware when seeking medical help is warranted.

2. Find a good primary care physician. This is the most important thing you can do. You want a doctor who manages common chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, headaches and abdominal pain. Also, most family doctors focus on preventative care and immunizations. When I needed a primary physician, I asked one of my coworkers who she went to, as she also has IBD. She gave a glowing review of Dr. M., who is also well versed in caring for the external symptoms of Crohn’s. Before I joined the group, I made sure they accepted my insurance.

3. Be your own health advocate. Whenever my doctor orders blood work or testing (CT, MRI) I will always ask why it’s being done, when I can get the results, how to call the service after hours if my symptoms worsen, and if I can have a copy of the report for my files at my next office visit.

Taking the time to understand your disease symptoms and when to seek immediate medical attention is a good first step in caring for yourself. You also want to have a general physician who takes the time to listen to their patients, has a good bedside manner, and can tell you when it’s necessary to call after hours if you feel unwell or go straight to the hospital.

Nobody likes feeling lousy and going to the medical office when it’s necessary. By tackling the symptoms early on, we can prevent further problems and heal sooner. Your doctor is part of your team in keeping you well. Work with your doctor when you are given a care plan, and in my experience you can’t go wrong.

Getty image by Wavebreak Media.

Originally published: October 28, 2019
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