Living and Thriving With More Than One Chronic Illness

Patient Expert

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of Americans will have one or more chronic illnesses. The CDC also states that chronic illnesses are the leading cause of death among Americans, but they don’t have to be. A lot of these diseases are preventable, or at the very least, manageable with treatment and lifestyle changes.

Have you been newly diagnosed with more than one illness and are nervous about what the future holds? You are not alone. Through an email interview, two health advocates living with multiple illnesses have provided tips on how to live a thriving life while managing multiple diseases.

Managing your health-care team

If you are living with multiple illnesses, you will certainly see a variety of doctors. Patient advocate Brooke A. is living with inflammatory bowel syndrome, spondylitis, and asthma. She sees a total of eight doctors on a regular basis. Brooke stresses that communication between your doctors is key for thriving with multiple illnesses. She advises to:

Find a team of doctors who can communicate regularly. This can be achieved by finding doctors within the same hospital network, who will most likely have access to the same medical records system. This could help you avoid the additional task of faxing paperwork to various doctors.

Give permission to release medical records to all doctors. When you have lab work completed, the doctor will usually give you a form that asks who their office has permission to release your results to. Be sure to add all your current doctors so they can receive and review your medical records with ease.

Color code your doctors in your calendar. Brooke suggests using a specific color in your calendar for each doctor you see, to make it easier for you to keep track. If your doctors are in close proximity, she suggests, schedule all your appointments for one day to avoid having to take multiple days off work.

Health advocate Kirsten S. is currently dealing with systematic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. She stresses that health care providers are working for YOU. This means if you are not satisfied with the way your issues are being handled, you can fire your doctor and find another one.

Find easy ways to keep track of your paperwork. Kirsten suggests making copies of important medical papers and placing them in a binder for easy access. She also suggests using an app on your phone if a paper trail isn’t your style.

Ask your doctor for referrals. If you suspect you are dealing with an additional illness, be sure to ask your current doctor if they have someone they can refer you to. Doctors are well-connected and have friendships with many professionals outside of their specialties. You don’t have to find a doctor on your own.

Managing your day-to-day tasks

Remember these conditions are unpredictable. Both Brooke and Kirsten explain this challenging part of living with multiple conditions. One moment you can be feeling fine, and the next you may not feel like moving. Kirsten says: “I never know what I'm going to be able to do from one day — and sometimes one hour — to the next.” Both said their schedules often have to be modified depending on symptoms. Kristen said she never schedules business meetings back-to-back, so if she needs a break she has time for one.

Be honest with your family about what you are feeling. When you are dealing with a chronic illness, it can affect the entire family. Those who love you will adjust when necessary. Brooke recommends being honest with everyone around you — even your kids. “I have to ask my child to have a lot of patience…” she said. Communication with your family is key in thriving with your conditions.