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August 3, 2022 | General Wellness

Understanding Chronic Diseases

Man sitting on couch checking blood pressure

Did you know that six in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease1? Chronic diseases are broadly defined as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention, limit activities of daily living, or a combination of both1. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are three examples of chronic diseases and are the leading causes of death and disability in the US1.

Coping with a chronic illness can be emotionally and physically taxing, cause financial burdens, and impact overall quality of life. If you, or someone close to you has a chronic disease, we’ve shared some information below that may help you.

Chronic diseases 101

Trends show that there is an overall increase in chronic diseases2. Between an aging population, risk factors that contribute to chronic diseases (more on that below) and medical advances that extend longevity, experts believe this trend will keep increasing if not effectively addressed2.

Examples of common chronic conditions include3:

  • Alzheimer disease and dementia
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • COPD
  • Crohn disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Mood disorders (bipolar, depression)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson disease

Given the fact that so many people suffer from chronic illnesses and some have overlapping symptoms, there is the chance somebody could have multiple conditions happening at the same time. Receiving an accurate diagnosis may take trial and error2.

What are the risk factors for chronic diseases?

Tobacco use, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption are the top risk behaviors that can lead to a chronic condition1. Given that chronic diseases may have overlapping symptoms, or you may have multiple conditions, the following information explains the specific chronic conditions related to the risk behavior4.

  • If you’re currently a smoker, quitting can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and lung disease. Even if you’re a long-time smoker, quitting can cause positive changes and lower your risk for these chronic diseases and more.
  • Not following a healthy diet. Do you feel like you’re always reading that you need to eat more fruits and vegetables? While it may seem repetitive, following a balanced diet can prevent chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For example, consuming too much fat and sodium can lead to long-term problems like high cholesterol, which then heightens the risk for high blood pressure and eventually heart disease.
  • Inactive lifestyle. Similar to the advice about following a well-balanced diet, you’ve likely heard that having an active lifestyle is important for overall health. More than 60% of adults do not engage in the recommended amount of activity (150 minutes/week of moderate exercise)5. While physical activity is important to prevent the risk of chronic conditions related to heart disease and diabetes, physical activity is also important for mental health and chronic conditions like anxiety and depression.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption has been a hot topic during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as studies have shown that alcohol consumption has increased as a way to cope with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic6. Moderate drinking is classified as one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men, while binge drinking is classified as four drinks in one session for women, and five drinks in one session for men7. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to both short-term and long-term health risks. In the short term, excessive drinking can lead to accidents, violence, alcohol poisoning, and engaging in risky behaviors. Long-term risks can cause chronic conditions to develop including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to various cancers, mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, and a weakened immune system.

How are chronic diseases diagnosed?

Diagnosing a chronic illness may be a long-term process. If you start noticing any symptoms that might be concerning, it can be helpful to start keeping track, since symptoms for chronic disease will typically last at least three months, but typically longer8. Staying on top of annual physicals with your healthcare provider and completing any necessary lab tests when needed can also catch problems before they arise.

Whether you have a chronic condition, have a loved one coping with a chronic illness, or you’re trying to prevent your risks, Scarlet® can help. Between blood draws for the prevention of a chronic condition, or the management of a chronic illness, Scarlet Health Professionals meet you where you are for blood work, urine collections and more. You just need  a lab order from your healthcare provider to get started.

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