DocTalk: Understanding Chronic Conditions

DocTalk: Understanding Chronic Conditions

Content derived from DocTalk with Shawn Myers, MD – Kent Primary Care Clinic

0:15 | What is a chronic condition?
A chronic condition is any health condition that lasts longer than three months. When we talk about chronic health conditions, we’re usually referring to one of two groups of conditions:

  1. Conditions that will continue to decrease your quality of life if not taken care of. Examples include chronic back pain, depression and anxiety. These conditions can last a long time, but if you take care of them with exercise and medications, you can live a happier, healthier life.
  2. Conditions that you might not be bothered by, but if you don’t get them under control, they can lead to future health problems and increase your risk of death. Examples include conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

0:59 | What are the most common chronic conditions?
Since there are so many different chronic conditions, it often depends on your age range. In general, the most common chronic condition is probably obesity; it affects more than 60% of the United States population. Obesity is important because it can increase the risk of other health problems and other chronic conditions. In younger people, the more chronic conditions tend to be things like depression and anxiety. Whereas our older populations tend to see things like high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes.

1:35 | Are there some warning signs and symptoms for some chronic conditions?
It depends on the condition. For conditions like asthma, you may experience shortness of breath, or flares of pain with chronic back pain. But with more significant conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, you only begin to have symptoms when the condition is very, very uncontrolled and causes a threat to your health.

Those with severely uncontrolled blood pressure may get headache, chest pain, or even vision changes. Those with severely uncontrolled diabetes may feel thirsty all the time, and need to pee constantly, because their body is trying to lower their sugar. Diabetes and high blood pressure are known as “silent killers” for a reason, because they are causing damage to your blood vessels the entire time they’re high. That damage will only continue to build up over months, which is why it’s so important see a primary care doctor for regular screening, so we can catch things like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, early on.

2:34 | Why are chronic conditions of particular concern right now?
The pandemic. Many people have had to put off their primary care appointments over the last couple of years, which can cause chronic conditions to go unmanaged or not be caught early in the process.

As an example, it is common to screen for diabetes and high cholesterol at annual physicals, but if people are putting off their physicals, we lose our opportunity to catch it and intervene early. Similarly, conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain can increase slowly over time, making it more difficult to notice the changes. If we haven’t seen you for a couple of years, your control over those conditions may have lessened, and once again, it removes our opportunity to catch it sooner to get you the support you need.

3:12 | What is the role of your primary care provider in helping you manage your chronic conditions?
Primary care providers have two main roles:

  1. Performing screenings to catch things, like chronic conditions.

  2. Coming up with a plan to manage your chronic condition.

Managing a chronic condition often requires several lifestyle changes, and those changes take time to get used to and to get those chronic conditions under control. It may even take several visits to find the right combinations of medicine that help; that is why they’re called chronic conditions.

Unfortunately, since the pandemic has caused a significant back up of people getting their chronic care, it’s gotten even more difficult to get people in. Fortunately, we do have some tools to help us out with that. We are now making telehealth appointments, where you can see us virtually. If you are able to get in to see us in person but have simple questions, or you need to set up an appointment, you can also send us MyChart messages to receive care in between visits.

4:05 | If you have a family member or loved one you’re concerned about, what suggestions do you have?
Express your concerns and work on getting them in to see us. They may need to hear that you’re worried about them, or that their uncontrolled health condition is affecting you, in order to feel motivated to make change. Their health is a community effort.

4:36 | What are some ways that you can reduce the risk or severity of many chronic illnesses?
There are two great steps we recommend:

  1. Get your preventive screenings done. If we aren’t able to catch conditions early, we can’t intervene.

  2. Move your body and get regular exercise. If we were ever to call something a magic cure, exercise and being active would be it. Exercise can:
    • decrease your blood pressure
    • help your body process sugar better
    • cause weight loss
    • reduce feelings of anxiety
    • reduce feelings of depression
    • release feel-good hormones (endorphins)
    • make you feel better

5:17 | Is it possible that you can manage some chronic conditions so well that they’ll go away?
Not quite. Once you have a health condition, you tend to have it for the rest of your life. For some conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, if you’re in the very early stages and have a lot of opportunities to make valuable life changes, you may be able to reverse a diagnosis. For instance, if you previously spent most of your time on the couch eating fried foods but began to eat healthier and move your body more, you may be able to get rid of your high blood pressure or diabetes. Unfortunately, more commonly, there has already been irreversible damage done to the body, so you’re working more on preventing further damage.

Contact Valley’s Kent Primary Care Clinic at 425.690.3420 or visit our website.

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