Living With a Chronic Condition: Small Steps for Men to Find Relief

No man is immune to chronic medical conditions. Yet, those who know the ramifications of these conditions are well-equipped to prevent them or minimize their impact.

What is a Chronic Condition?

A chronic condition is any disease that lasts one year or longer. Approximately 60% of adults in the United States have a chronic disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also notes chronic conditions are among the leading drivers that contribute to the $3.8 trillion in healthcare costs in the U.S.

At least one study indicates men may be more susceptible to chronic conditions than women. In addition, many factors can contribute to chronic conditions in men and women, including:

• Smoking: The CDC points out smoking has been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and other chronic conditions.

• Exposure to Secondhand Smoke: Secondhand smoke exposure can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

• Alcohol Use: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

• Poor Nutrition: Those who maintain a healthy diet are less prone than others to obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

• Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to chronic conditions like obesity and vascular disease.

A clear understanding of chronic conditions is a must. Men who understand common chronic diseases and the risks associated with them can take appropriate steps to protect their overall health.

Common Chronic Conditions

Among adults, the most common chronic conditions include:

• High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Nearly half of adults in the U.S. are dealing with hypertension. Yet, only 24% of these adults say they have their high blood pressure “under control,” the CDC states.

• High Cholesterol: The body needs cholesterol to create healthy cells, but too much of it can cause fatty deposits to form in the blood vessels. When this happens, people are susceptible to chest pain, heart attacks, and strokes.

• Arthritis: There are over 100 types of arthritis and similar conditions. Arthritis can result in joint swelling and pain. If left unaddressed, arthritis can cause permanent joint damage, too.

• Coronary Heart Disease: Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It occurs when the heart’s arteries cannot deliver sufficient oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

• Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. In this instance, people are susceptible to heart disease, vision loss, and other severe health problems.

Along with the aforementioned physical health conditions, mental health disorders can be chronic.

What is a Chronic Mental Illness?

A chronic mental illness refers to a medical condition that impairs a person’s cognitive functioning and causes debilitating psychiatric symptoms. Mental illness can occur on its own or in combination with other chronic diseases. Regardless, it can have far-flung effects on an individual’s ability to feel their best.

Common types of chronic mental illness include:

• Bipolar Disorder: Also referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood emotional highs and lows.

• Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves, to the point where an individual may seem like he or she has lost touch with reality.

• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD can cause a person to obsess over different areas of their life and cause illogical and unreasonable compulsions and repetitive behaviors.

Those who prioritize the foundations of good mental health can watch for warning signs of chronic mental illness. They can also take steps to prevent chronic conditions that affect their mental and physical wellbeing alike.

Tips to Protect Against Chronic Conditions

A chronic condition won’t disappear on its own. Instead, the physical and emotional symptoms of a chronic disease can worsen over time, making it virtually impossible for someone to enjoy life to the fullest extent.

There is no need to let a chronic condition get out of control. Conversely, there are many things that men can do to protect against chronic diseases, such as:

• Avoid Nicotine: For men who do not currently smoke, continue to avoid it and stay away from secondhand smoke whenever possible. Or, for men who are struggling to quit smoking, enroll in counseling and/or medication to help manage your urge to smoke.

• Avoid Alcohol: Men should limit their alcohol consumption to two drinks or less. That way, men can lower their risk of high blood pressure, depression, alcohol use disorder, and other long-lasting health problems.

• Get Sufficient Rest: Try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Develop a sleep routine, so you go to bed and wake up around the same times every day. Also, turn off any electronics and/or practice meditation or other mindfulness to help you relax before bedtime.

• Stay Active: Strive for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, five days a week. Track your physical activity and weight, too.

• Develop and Maintain a Healthy Diet: Establish a balanced diet that includes fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. If necessary, remove sugary snacks and other unhealthy foods from your diet.

• Learn About Your Family Health History: Find out if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with or is currently dealing with a chronic disease. Men with a family history can face a greater risk than others of experiencing a chronic condition at some point in their life. If you know your family health history, however, you can monitor and take care of your health accordingly.

• Meet with a Doctor: Schedule a routine physical exam at least once a year. And, if you show any symptoms of a chronic disease, meet with a doctor right away. This allows you to get appropriate testing to determine if you are coping with a chronic condition. If a doctor diagnoses you with a chronic disease, he or she can then offer a personalized treatment recommendation.

Finally, the stigma associated with physical and mental chronic conditions can make it tough for men to seek out help. But it is important to note that chronic diseases can be treated.

It is never too late to explore treatment for a chronic condition. Doctors can provide tools and resources to teach men about chronic diseases and how to alleviate their symptoms. Men may even qualify for disability benefits if their chronic condition seriously affects their physical or mental wellbeing.

The bottom line: don’t wait to pursue help for a chronic condition. The sooner a man considers ways to prevent or treat chronic diseases, the better off he’ll be now and in the future.