Comorbidities: Managing Multiple Chronic Diseases

Author: Matt Way, Clinical PharmacistManaging Comorbidities

It’s common for people with one chronic condition to develop additional, coexisting conditions. When these additional disease states exist at the same time as the original or primary condition, regardless of how they started, we refer to them as comorbidities. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in four Americans is living with more than one chronic condition. Half of the population aged 65 and older is living with three or more chronic conditions.

Managing multiple chronic conditions is part of everyday life for many Americans. Though it can be complex, living with multiple chronic conditions is easier with comprehensive, coordinated care between healthcare providers and education programs that enable us to make well-informed healthy lifestyle choices.

What is a Comorbidity?

The word comorbidity may sound serious, but it’s really just a way to describe when a person has multiple chronic conditions. The CDC defines comorbidity as “more than one disease or condition present in the same person at the same time.” You may also hear comorbid conditions described as coexisting or co-occurring conditions.

If you have a chronic condition, you may have an increased risk of developing certain comorbidities. Sometimes these comorbidities develop because of your original chronic condition. Sometimes the additional chronic conditions that develop are unrelated. When chronic conditions occur at the same time in the same person, it will often influence the progression and treatment of each disease.

For example, high blood pressure and diabetes are common comorbidities. Both conditions can exist alone, but if you are diagnosed with both high blood pressure and diabetes, they are considered comorbidities. After comorbidities are diagnosed, you and your healthcare team must consider how the treatment of one chronic condition could affect the other. Specific to the example of high blood pressure and diabetes, there are blood pressure medications that provide a benefit to diabetics and those that don’t. It’s critical to be aware of both conditions when planning a course of treatment.

While it’s important to take your health seriously, don’t be alarmed. If you are diagnosed with a chronic condition, you will not necessarily develop comorbidities. If you have a chronic condition and you do get sick, it’s not necessarily a comorbidity. Your doctor will help you identify and diagnose your symptoms.

Common Examples of Chronic Conditions and Comorbidities

Some coexisting conditions are more common than others. The American Diabetes Association reports that most adults with diabetes have a coexisting health condition and as many as 40 percent have three or more chronic conditions. Adults with heart disease are nearly twice as likely to have arthritis. Arthritis can often coexist with other chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. As many patients and caregivers are aware, mental health can be impacted when someone is living with a chronic condition. Depression and anxiety are comorbidities of many chronic health conditions. Although it’s not always treated, research suggests half of the people who live with chronic pain also have a mental health condition. It’s important to find a healthcare provider you feel safe and comfortable with to discuss the mental and emotional health aspects of your care.

If you are diagnosed with a chronic condition, be sure to ask your doctor about common comorbidities associated with it. It’s important to be aware of the potential risks so you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan that helps you manage your chronic condition and prevent comorbidities from developing.

Care Coordination is Key When Managing Comorbidities

Care coordination is essential when you are managing one or more chronic conditions. As a patient or caregiver, it’s important to make sure your healthcare providers are all on the same page. It can be helpful to keep your healthcare information in one place, take notes during doctor’s appointments and write down your questions. If you see a new doctor or healthcare specialist, be sure to share your complete health history and tell them about all your medications. When your doctor knows about all your chronic health conditions, he or she can develop a treatment plan to help you achieve the best possible outcomes.

Managing Medications and Comorbidities

Managing your medications is a crucial part of managing multiple chronic conditions. Be sure to tell your pharmacist about all the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements. Staying in touch with your pharmacist can help you manage your medications and medication side effects. At Amber Pharmacy, your pharmacist will always look at your complete medication profile to check for potential drug-drug interactions and drug-disease contraindications. Your pharmacist can also offer expert advice about potential side effects and how best to take your medication. If you have any additional concerns, be sure to address them with your pharmacist.

Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Manage Comorbidities

When it comes to managing comorbidities, choosing a healthy lifestyle can make all the difference. Work with your doctor to develop a plan that helps you manage your chronic conditions and improves your overall health. Spend time learning about your chronic conditions so you can make informed decisions. Amber Pharmacy patients can take advantage of the Promises Program®, our comprehensive patient education and resources program.

Make sure to discuss an appropriate exercise routine with your doctor. Regular exercise is an important way to manage your health. In some cases, exercise can help prevent chronic conditions from developing. For example, people with arthritis may become less active because of joint pain. This increases their risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. If you work with your doctor to develop a safe exercise program, it can help reduce that risk.

Be sure to discuss your diet with your doctor. What you eat and drink may affect your chronic condition. A registered dietitian can be a great resource to help you develop a balanced diet that supports your overall health. This is especially important if you’re having a hard time managing comorbid conditions and getting the nutrients your body needs. Amber Pharmacy patients can schedule a personalized consultation with registered dietitian Megan Hall for help managing their diet.

It’s important to tell your doctor about any alcohol, tobacco or drug use, including the use of electronic cigarettes. When talking to your doctor about lifestyle behaviors that can affect your overall health and wellness, be sure to talk about your stress, mental health and sleeping habits.

Comprehensive Care for Complex Conditions from Amber Pharmacy

At Amber Pharmacy, we help patients manage multiple chronic conditions every day. Our comprehensive approach to care is aimed at helping you manage every aspect chronic, complex conditions. Experienced pharmacists in our Centers of Excellence understand the unique healthcare needs of people living with multiple chronic conditions. In addition to 24/7 clinical support, our patients have access to reliable patient education materials and numerous patient support services. Amber Pharmacy is your compassionate, knowledgeable partner to help you live well and achieve the best possible outcomes.

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