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How to Prevent Common Chronic Conditions

couple standing in field enjoying life without chronic conditions

Reducing the risk of heart attack, asthma, COPD and more

Kris Roloff – quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 5/18/2020
Updated 5/12/2022 by Amanda Springstroh, quality care coordinator at Network Health

At Network Health, we pay special attention to our members who have chronic conditions. Knowing how to prevent chronic conditions is a strategy that complements our condition management, letting people enjoy their best lives without the pain and inconvenience these chronic conditions present.

Many of us are not up to date on core preventive screenings and may be unaware of our risks for getting common chronic conditions. Having an annual wellness exam and getting preventive screenings are key to detecting these issues early on when they are at their most treatable.

As you read about these common chronic conditions, make notes to ask your doctor about screenings you may need and benefit from to help stay your healthiest and detect these potentially serious issues early.

Heart - Heart attack prevention and understanding heart disease

Your heart is something extremely important to monitor and be appropriately concerned about.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to the rest of the body. As a serious condition that develops over time, heart failure can often be prevented or minimized by lifestyle adjustments.

Coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, with the most common being coronary artery disease (CAD). This affects and inhibits blood flow to the heart. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries) and other parts of the body.

Plaque is made up of deposits of cholesterol and other substances in the artery. Like mineral scale building up in a pipe and gradually closing it off, plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. This can partially or even totally block the blood flow, a process called atherosclerosis. If the heart can't get enough blood, a heart attack occurs. Similarly, if the heart can't pump enough blood out to the brain, heart disease can lead to a stroke.

There are certain problems that can make the heart work harder than it should including high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease/heart disease, past heart attack and being overweight. Other factors are not lifestyle-related at all include race (Black Americans are more likely to have heart failure), the presence of congenital heart defects and age (those aged 65 and older have an increased risk of heart failure).

With such a significant portion of contributing factors being within the individual’s control, however, it is important to understand the steps that can be taken to prevent it.

  1. Maintaining a healthy weight
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein
  4. Limiting consumption of bad fats, added sugars, salt and alcohol
  5. Not smoking or using recreational drugs
  6. Working to reduce stress
  7. Getting enough sleep

Lungs - COPD and asthma as chronic conditions

An inflammatory lung disease category that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, COPD refers to serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Due to these conditions being chronic diseases, COPD worsens with time. Like heart failure, however, COPD can often be prevented.

In fact, the leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Those who never smoked can still get COPD. Non-smokers diagnosed with COPD have often been exposed to air pollution or have a history of respiratory infections. COPD is often caught in the preventive stage by 

For those who have COPD and who have never smoked (up to 25 percent), long-term exposure to other lung irritants — such as air pollution, chemical fumes or dust — is believed to be a significant contributor to the disease’s prevalence.

You can help prevent COPD or help minimize its severity by doing the following.

  1. Stopping smoking
  2. Avoiding secondhand smoke
  3. Avoiding air pollution (if you live somewhere negatively affected by pollution, many smartphone apps, like AirVisual, have Air Quality alerts to help you navigate especially bad days).
  4. Avoiding occupational exposures
  5. Being aware of a family history of Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency. This is an inherited disease which contains a gene that is being examined for COPD prevalence in non-smokers. Several tests exist for this gene.

What about asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which airways narrow and swell and produce excess mucus. These factors can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance, only rearing its head during intense activity or a bad allergy day.

For others, however, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and can even lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

Can asthma be cured?

Asthma can’t be cured but its symptoms can be controlled. Because asthma often changes over time, it’s important to work with your personal doctor, or an allergy specialist, to track signs and symptoms and adjust your individualized treatment as needed.

Can asthma be prevented?

There is no way to prevent asthma, working with your personal doctor to plan for living with asthma and preventing asthma attacks is important. Plans will typically include some or all the following steps.

  1. Follow your personalized asthma action plan
  2. Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia
  3. Identify and avoid asthma triggers
  4. Monitor your breathing
  5. Identify and treat asthma attacks early
  6. Take any medication as prescribed
  7. Pay attention to increased quick-relief inhaler use. If you are increasing the use of a quick-relief inhaler, such as albuterol, your asthma is not likely under control. Reach out to your personal doctor about adjusting your treatment plan.

Learn more about an Asthma Action Plan and finding the appropriate medical regimen to control your asthma by clicking here.

Blood sugar - Diabetes as a chronic condition

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood.

Glucose, which comes from the foods we eat, is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body. To use glucose, the body needs a hormone called insulin.

In people with diabetes, the body either can’t make insulin or the insulin doesn’t work in the body as it should.

Type 1 diabetes vs. Type 2 diabetes

There are two common types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the cells that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can still make insulin, but the body doesn’t respond to it properly. With lifestyle and diet adjustments, Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented and even reversed.

In both types of diabetes, glucose can’t get into the cells normally. This causes a rise in blood sugar levels, which can make someone sick if not treated. For this reason, a quick and simple blood sugar test is the best way to find out if you have diabetes.

Although Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, certain factors – such as age, genes or past lifestyhle behaviors – sometimes preclude this possibility. Still, taking the following actions will help reduce your chance for, and potentially the severity of, Type 2 diabetes.

  1. If overweight or obese, work to lose the excess weight and keep it off. If you’re overweight or obese, you could prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes by simply losing five to seven percent of your starting weight.
  2. Get more activity. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week has shown to help prevent, and in some cases reverse, Type 2 diabetes. If not typically active, talk with a health care professional about which activities are best. Start slowly and build up to a goal.
  3. Eat good, healthy foods. Eating smaller portions helps you lose excess weight by reducing the number of calories consumed. Choosing foods with less fat is another way to reduce calories. Drinking water instead of alcohol or sweetened beverages is another great way to help your body stave off or push back against Type 2 diabetes.

>>> READ MORE: Everything to Know About Diabetes <<<

Kidneys - Chronic kidney disease

Patients diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have the inability to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood (which, in a person without CKD is removed by urine). Over time, this progression leads to kidney damage and can be fatal with end-stage kidney failure as the result.

Risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. CKD is typically diagnosed via screenings including blood pressure and a simple blood or urine test.

Because this condition can be caused or accelerated by preventable conditions, being aware of your overall health and the symptoms you're experiencing is crucial to helping avoid CKD. 

If you have CKD, the sooner you're aware, the sooner you can begin a treatment plan. Like most conditions and diseases, early detection helps prevent more severe progressions. Talk with your personal doctor to discuss risk factors and find a treatment plan that works for you.

Preventing and managing chronic conditions is a recipe for a full and fulfilling life

Our mission to build healthy and strong Wisconsin communities here at Network Health means looking after and looking out for our members who are suffering from chronic conditions. 

If you’re interested in prevention strategies for chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, our wellness team is on hand and able to help. Diabetes prevention and management programs like Prevent T2 and Healthy Living with Diabetes are effective. Learn more about those programs and get started by clicking here.

If you have any of the above conditions and are looking for guidance on how to get the most out of your Network Health plan for management, contact us today.

>>> Contact Us <<<


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