How to manage multiple chronic diseases
Living with one chronic disease can be challenging enough. We previously provided our clients with guidance on How to Cope with a New Chronic Illness Diagnoses as our first resource (since launching our new Chronic Disease Self-Management webpage) for those who are new to managing chronic diseases. But after being diagnosed with one, individuals should not give up on their effort because there are new consequences: comorbidities.
What are comorbidities?
A comorbidity is the diagnosis of a second health condition while already being physically or mentally impacted by one. They tend to happen when chronic disease is not being managed properly – eventually affecting the patient to the point where they require complex medical care instead of being able to manage their condition independently or with some assistance in the comfort of their home.
Common Dyads and Triads
As people age and medical technology advances to help them live longer, chronic diseases affect even more of the older population. Research has even identified some of these diseases to commonly occur together. Below are three of the most common dyadic (2 conditions) and triadic (3 conditions) diagnoses:
High blood pressure can occur with one or two of the following:
- Heart disease
High cholesterol can occur with one or two of the following:
- High blood pressure
- Ischemic heart disease
Mental health conditions can occur with one or more of the following:
- Eating disorders (including obesity, body dysmorphia)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Sleep disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Adult ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactive disorder)
- Chronic pain
Research has supported the prevention of comorbidities with proper management of existing health conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, regularly accessing health services, and encouraging communication within the patient’s circle of care in order to benefit from a coordinated response to their unique health needs.
Managing your multiple chronic diseases with your “Circle of Care”
All users of the Canadian health care system have a diverse care team that double as guardians of their health information – their Circle of Care. This may include a family doctor, a specialist, a pharmacist, a nurse, a social worker, a physiotherapist, and many other health professionals depending on the severity of the patient’s condition.
It is common that different health professionals will have the same patient and design the treatment plan for their illness or comorbidities without consulting with one another. A patient may be able to increase teamwork and clarity by informing all members of their circle of care of their interactions with others and ongoing treatments.
Starting with the pharmacist is advisable as they can go over the list of medications that a patient has been prescribed by different providers and scan through it for treatments that interact with each other and potentially trigger comorbidities and worsening disease status.
Mobile health apps for chronic disease self-management
Below is a list of highly rated mobile health applications that have been judged as helpful in managing various chronic diseases not only by past/current users, but healthcare professionals too. They are available for free download on iOS (Apple) and Android (Samsung, Pixel, LG, etc.) devices.
- Calm is a mobile app that promises to help users sleep better, boost confidence and reduce stress and anxiety, all with the help of guided meditations, soothing music, and bedtime stories.
- Curable is a mobile app that provides guidance, education, and tools to re-program your nerve pathways and reduce your pain.
- Flaredown is a mobile app focused on decoding your chronic illness – it remembers your details so that you can track conditions, symptoms, and treatments, compare your data to test out your treatments and find triggers, and talk with other users and learn from their experience.
- Glucose Buddy is a mobile app that connects to your glucometer or allows you to log your numbers manually while also tracking steps, exercise, and meals.
- Medisafe is a mobile app intended for patients who are on multiple medications for chronic diseases and who have a hard time complying with their prescription medications.
- myVectra is a mobile app that helps track your rheumatoid arthritis, create visual snapshots of your data, and communicate about your RA like never before.
- Sanvello is a mobile app created by psychologists that uses clinically validated techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy to ease mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
- Sleep Cycle is a mobile app that helps you learn about your sleep patterns with detailed analysis and understand how stress and anxiety may be affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
- SuperBetter is a mobile app that helps you build resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of change and difficult challenges.