Chronic disease health facts
Chronic disease refers to a group of health disorders that persist over time.
The chronic conditions we often treat include:
- Diabetes and prediabetes.
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Thyroid disorders
Many chronic conditions can be reversed, or at least minimized, with the implementation of healthy lifestyle habits. Others, like type 1 diabetes, are not curable but can be controlled to the degree that the patient can live a full, active and healthy life.
Our approach to chronic diseases is a holistic one, going beyond mere symptom alleviation and focusing on root, systemic causes. Our team of healthcare providers works in partnership with patients to tailor a treatment plan that helps end suffering from chronic disease and get them back on the path to thriving.
Outlined below are some of the more common chronic diseases that we see and an overview of their causes, symptoms and treatments.
Diabetes is a group of conditions in which there are elevated levels of blood glucose (also called blood sugar) over a sustained period of time. Left uncontrolled, high blood glucose levels can lead to serious and even fatal complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney disease.
Diabetes involves insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that is responsible for converting sugars from food into a form of energy that can be readily absorbed by the body’s cells for energy. We treat the following types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
HealthFit Family Medicine can treat type 1 diabetes, although this type of diabetes is more frequently managed by an endocrinologist – a specialist who treats issues related to the endocrine glands and hormones.
Type 1 diabetes is when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin, ceasing insulin production. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in young people, so it used to be called “juvenile diabetes.” People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes need to regularly monitor their blood sugar and administer insulin, either through injections or an insulin pump.
The cause of type 1 diabetes is not well understood, and there is currently no cure. However, maintaining an active lifestyle and following a healthy eating plan, in addition to blood monitoring and insulin therapy, can minimize the risk of type 1 diabetes complications. When properly managed, the type 1 diabetic can lead a healthy and active lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs when the body makes an insufficient amount of insulin or fails to use insulin efficiently. Most often this disease develops in adulthood as a result of certain lifestyle factors, so it used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.”
It progresses gradually, beginning with insulin resistance and a condition called prediabetes (described in further detail below). Left unchecked, insulin resistance develops into type 2 diabetes, which may ultimately require medication, insulin injections or both to prevent serious and fatal complications. Prediabetes, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes have many causes, the most common of which include:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Lack of exercise.
- Unhealthy diet, particularly one high in carbohydrates and sugars.
- High blood pressure.
- A family history of type 2 diabetes.
- Chronic stress.
Type 2 diabetes can be effectively controlled through lifestyle interventions, the most effective of which are exercise, weight loss and nutrition management. Type 2 diabetics who are overweight, obese or have unhealthy eating habits can dramatically reduce symptoms and complications related to diabetes by losing weight and adopting a healthy diet. We have developed excellent programs to give people the support and guidance they need to reach these goals.
Before a person gets type 2 diabetes, he or she will have what’s called prediabetes, which is when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet at the diabetes range. According to the American Diabetes Association, an alarming 26 percent of adults (84 million) in the United States had prediabetes in 2015.
HealthFit physicians want to address lifestyle issues and means of control at the prediabetes stage, working to stop its progression to type 2 diabetes. People often do not have symptoms. In our examinations and discussions with our patients, we try to determine if we should test for prediabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman has dangerously high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. It is caused by hormones produced during pregnancy, and generally resolves after labor and delivery.
HealthFit typically refers pregnant patients with gestational diabetes to an Ob/Gyn for care. An Ob/Gyn will ask the patient to regularly monitor blood glucose levels while watching her diet. The care provider will also help the woman adopt an exercise regimen appropriate for her pregnancy. While it is not a chronic condition, women with gestational diabetes are statistically more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lifetime, and are therefore urged to maintain an active lifestyle and sensible diet to reduce the risk.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a chronic disease condition in which the amount of force exerted by the blood onto the walls of the veins and arteries is too high. Untreated, this can lead to various complications including heart failure and stroke. Because people often experience no symptoms, the American Heart Association calls high blood pressure “the silent killer.” That’s why HealthFit physicians look for it in their patient discussions and examinations.
High blood pressure may run in the family, and can develop in otherwise healthy individuals simply due to genetics. However, high blood pressure is often due at least in part to certain lifestyle factors including:
- Lack of exercise.
- Unhealthy diet.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
We can effectively control high blood pressure with medication. High blood pressure may also be reversed by addressing the root causes outlined above.
High cholesterol is a condition in which an elevated level of fats (lipids) are in the blood. These blood lipids can build up, forming plaque in the arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol may run in the family, but is more commonly caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits including poor diet, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking and diabetes.
High cholesterol can be managed with the following lifestyle modifications:
- Weight loss.
- Regular exercise.
- A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Quitting smoking.
- Drinking alcohol in moderation.
At HealthFit, we can regularly monitor cholesterol levels at our in-house laboratory. We find that, with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle and motivation to make healthy choices, most chronic diseases can be well controlled, oftentimes reducing or eliminating the need for medications.
Obesity & weight loss
Obesity is the condition of being significantly overweight, which is medically defined as having a body max index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is a simple calculation that factors the ratio of height to weight. It is a good tool to get a rough estimate of one’s health as it relates to weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects over 1 in 3 adults in the United States. Obesity is linked with an array of chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
While it is one of the most common causes of health problems in America, obesity is also one of the most preventable and reversible. Medication, genetics and certain health conditions can leave one predisposed to obesity.
Improper diet and lack of exercise can directly cause obesity. But we would like to help patients improve their diet and exercise habits and help them maintain good habits for life.
The thyroid is a gland in the neck responsible for making certain hormones related to metabolism. The two primary chronic disease disorders related to the thyroid are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces an inadequate amount of thyroid hormone. This can lead to symptoms that cause fatigue, weight gain, constipation, body aches and depression. Hypothyroidism is more common in older female adults, but can occur at any age. It is diagnosed with a blood test and treated effectively with medication.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, which may lead to an array of symptoms including nervousness, moodiness, fatigue, tremors, weight loss and a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid). It is most commonly caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease. This chronic disease can be diagnosed by blood test, and may require referral to a specialist for appropriate treatment, depending on severity.
Osteoporosis is a chronic disease involving the weakening of the bones as the body gets older. It is most commonly diagnosed in postmenopausal women, but it can affect men too. Osteoporosis leaves one at increased risk for breaks and fractures, and for this reason preventing falls becomes very important for elderly patients diagnosed with the condition.
While osteoporosis is a progressive and chronic disease that advances with age, it can be prevented and slowed. To prevent or slow the progression of osteoporosis, patients may be advised to:
- Take calcium and vitamin D supplements and/or consume foods rich in these nutrients.
- Quit smoking and drink only in moderation.
- Get regular exercise.
Migraines are severe, often debilitating headaches that affect more than 1 in 10 Americans. In contrast to the more common tension headache, which affects nearly everyone at one time or another, migraines come on suddenly and usually only affect one side of the head. They may also cause nausea and vomiting. It is thought that migraines are caused by abnormal activity in the brain.
Treating migraines and reducing their frequency often comes down to understanding what triggers them in any one individual. For some, they are triggered by changes in the weather, lack of sleep, certain foods or flashing lights. Others may find that a migraine occurs after a stressful or emotionally taxing event.
Botox for migraines
Botox, an injectable neurotoxic chemical, is most commonly used in the treatment of wrinkles on the face. It works by temporarily reducing the activity of the nerves in and near the site of injection, and has many applications beyond cosmetics including the treatment of chronic migraine headaches.
While clinical studies have shown that Botox facial injections can effectively treat chronic migraines, the reason it works for many patients is not fully understood. It is thought that Botox suppresses nerves that send pain signals to the brain and/or relaxes muscles, making them less prone to become tense and painful.