Many people have more than one
long-term (chronic) health problem. You may be one of them. For example, you
high blood pressure and
diabetes, or you may have high blood pressure, diabetes, and
heart failure. When you have more than one problem,
doctors call the health problems
One health problem may
lead to another, causing the comorbidity. For example, diabetes can damage the
lining of your blood vessels. This can lead to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and a
heart attack. And a heart attack can lead to heart
You also may have health problems that are not linked to
each other, such as
COPD and diabetes.
When you have more
than one health problem, you have different health care needs. One disease can
make another disease worse, and the total effect of all the diseases may be
more than each on its own.
You also may have more symptoms and
may need more treatment and medicines. You most likely will have to do more to
take care of your health.
You may need to see more than one doctor and may need more than one treatment and medicine.
This topic will explore what you can do
to help yourself when you have more than one health problem.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
When you have more than one
health problem, it usually means that you need at least a few medicines.
Dealing with medicines can be one of the harder parts of your care. Medicines
can save your life, but they can also harm you. You have to track them, know
how to take them, and perhaps deal with side effects.
You and all
your doctors need to be aware of all the medicines you
are taking. This makes it less likely that one doctor will give you a medicine
that interacts with another medicine. For example, one medicine may cause side
effects that create problems with other medicines. Or one medicine may make
another medicine stronger or weaker.
Older adults have to be
even more careful with medicine. As you age, your body becomes more sensitive
to medicines. As a result, the medicines may build up in your body and affect
you as if you had taken a larger dose than prescribed. This can be
harmful. So make sure you know how to stay safe when you take several medicines.
Good treatment depends on
making sure that all of your doctors know about all of your health
problems. Everyone you see for health care needs to know how you are being
treated for each health problem you have.
Think of your doctors
as your team. Tell each doctor that you expect him or her to talk with the
other doctors about your care. If you feel comfortable doing so, bring a family member or friend with you to appointments so he or she can help you remember symptoms or problems that you want to talk about with the doctor.
You can do a lot to help yourself.
One of the most important things is to get support. This can be your partner, a
family member, a close friend, or a group of people in the same situation
you're in. These people can do a lot to make you feel better physically and
You can also help yourself through lifestyle changes.
Something as simple as eating healthy foods and staying active can help your
overall health a lot.
Another way you can help yourself is to keep a
personal health record. This is a place where you keep
all the information about your health, such as your medicines, past health
problems, and allergies. This information can help your doctors. And it's valuable
if you change doctors, move, get sick when you're away from home, or end up in
an emergency room. If any of these things happen and you have your records, you
may get treatment more quickly and your treatment will be safer.
Making Your Wishes Known
When you have many health
problems, serious problems can come up. With them come hard decisions. For
example, you might have to decide whether or not to use a
ventilator or whether you want to continue
It's best to be prepared in advance. Write down what
treatment you want or don't want, and find someone who can speak up for you in
the event that you can't. This will make things easier for both you and your
Caring for someone who has long-term
health problems can be stressful. You want to do as much as you can, but you
also can get tired and have health problems of your own. You need to take care
of yourself as well as your loved one.
AGS Foundation for Health in Aging (2012). A guide to geriatric syndromes: Common and often related medical conditions in older adults. Available online: http://www.americangeriatrics.org/health_care_professionals/clinical_practice/multimorbidity.
AGS Foundation for Health in Aging (2012). Living with multiple health problems: What older adults should know. Available online: http://www.americangeriatrics.org/health_care_professionals/clinical_practice/multimorbidity.
American Geriatrics Society (2012). Guiding principles for the care of older adults with multimorbidity: An approach for clinicians. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 60(10): E1–E25. Also available online: http://www.americangeriatrics.org/health_care_professionals/clinical_practice/multimorbidity.
American Geriatrics Society Expert Panel on the Care of Older Adults With Multimorbidity (2012). Patient-centered care for older adults with multiple chronic conditions: A stepwise approach from the American Geriatrics Society. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 60(10): 1957–1968. Also available online: http://www.americangeriatrics.org/files/documents/MCC.stepwise.approach.pdf.
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Becoming a responsible health care consumer. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 453–484. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Horowitz JA (2010). The therapeutic relationship. In CL Edelman, CL Mandle, eds., Health Promotion Throughout the Life Span, 7th ed., pp. 91–114. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Wallace M (2010). Older adult. In CL Edelman, CL Mandle, eds., Health Promotion Throughout the Life Span, 7th ed., pp. 619–647. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerBrian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.