Comorbidity: How Patients Can Manage Multiple Chronic Conditions

Comorbidity is the term used when a person has been diagnosed with more than one chronic medical condition. For example, if someone is diagnosed with diabetes and they are later diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), they would be considered to have comorbidity. Comorbidity occurs in approximately one in four adults in developed countries and can complicate health management. 

Unlike acute conditions, like a broken arm or bronchitis, where the doctor is the primary person who manages treatment, chronic conditions are long-term (lasting one year or more) and require patients to take a more active role in their care. Chronic conditions oftentimes need lifelong attention and complex medical regimens. Understandably, patients can feel overwhelmed with having to manage multiple chronic conditions on a daily basis. However, comorbidities must be properly managed in order to reduce the risk of further health complications. Below are some tips to help patients best self manage multiple chronic conditions.

Work Together With Your Pharmacist

Patients with multiple chronic conditions are prescribed multiple medications, and therefore must manage complex medication regimens. Pharmacists can help patients manage their medications as well as address any questions and side effects. Your pharmacist is an important part of your care team that, when supplemented with your primary care physician and specialist visits, can help you improve your health and quality of life.

Pharmacists can help patients avoid adverse effects associate with taking multiple medications. They can also serve as important educators for patients, helping them understand why it’s important that patients take their medication as instructed: For example, why should they take their medication with/without food? Why should patients take their medication at night as opposed to in the morning?

Keep a Journal of Your Symptoms

For some patients, keeping a journal of their symptoms helps them feel more in control of their health and encourages them to adhere to their treatment regimen. A symptom journal also makes doctor-patient interactions more effective, because patients can present their doctors with information that forms a very thorough health history and helps physicians make more informed treatment decisions.

If you don’t like the idea of carrying around a notebook, consider using an app on your smartphone to track your symptoms more conveniently. The information you’ll want to record includes your symptoms, symptom duration, possible triggers (what did you eat that day, and what were your activities?).

Find Ways to Modify Daily Activities of Living 

People with comorbidities may feel as if they don’t have much control over their day-to-day routines, and therefore may feel resistant to practicing healthy lifestyle habits, like exercising and eating a well-balanced meal. For example, pain and stiffness in the hands associated with arthritis may discourage patients from cooking a healthy meal if they can’t chop vegetables. An easy way to modify this daily task is to consider using a food processor to make the chopping process easier or to consider buying pre-chopped vegetables. Finding ways to modify tasks that seem difficult or impossible helps patients retain autonomy and helps them adhere to a healthy lifestyle (part of any treatment protocol for chronic conditions).   

Properly Managing Comorbidities Helps Improve Health Outcomes and Quality of Life

Patients who adhere to their treatment regimen and successfully manage multiple chronic conditions see improved health outcomes and improvements in their quality of life. Additionally, these patients are at a decreased risk for developing further health complications, which means that they reduce hospital visits and significantly reduce their medical expenses. To learn more about how you can best manage multiple chronic conditions, talk to your medical care team, or your pharmacist.