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How Learning About Your Disease Means Better Care
Having a chronic illness can be challenging and even life changing. It often means that you have to make major changes or, at the very least, that your life has been irrevocably changed. If you don’t know much about medicine, you might be tempted to let your doctor take total control of your health. On the one hand that does make sense; after all, your doctor is the expert. However, there are also reasons why you should take the time to educate yourself about your condition and take an active interest in your care.
Reason One: To understand what your doctor is doing.
Depending on what type of illness you have, your doctor could prescribe several different treatments to help you manage the disease. Some of those treatments might make sense, and some might seem like little more than a way to make your life more complicated than it is. For example, people with diabetes often have to follow several different treatment protocols including medications, blood sugar testing, and dietary and lifestyle changes, to manage their disease.
Most people understand that diabetes causes high blood sugar, but they don’t understand how that happens, or how the treatments can reverse or prevent that. By understanding more about how their disease works, they can have a better understanding of why their doctors are prescribing certain treatments. Understand why your doctor is using certain treatments will also make it easier for you to follow the treatment, especially if it is difficult or unpleasant.
Why is this important?
Because following your doctor’s treatment protocol is your best chance of successfully managing your disease, which can extend your life span and ensure a better quality of life overall.
Reason Two: To teach your doctor a few things.
Medicine is constantly changing, and often faster than doctors can keep up. Your doctor has to periodically update his knowledge, but he also has to see hundreds of patients a week, which means he could be a little behind the times regarding new advances. On the other hand, the only patient that you have to worry about is you. When you take the initiative to learn about your disease, and about what sort of treatments and diagnostic tests are available, you can then pass that information on to your doctor.
To use diabetes as an example again, your doctor might have you taking your blood sugar readings with a standard blood glucose monitor. In the course of your research, you might discover that there are actually devices that monitor you continuously. If you have questions like what is CGM you can do research online and consult your physician. Since these devices are fairly new, your doctor might have more information than you can find online and could show you the benefits of higher efficiency monitors.
Why is this important?
By mentioning them to him, you can open the lines of communication regarding your current treatment, and might even be able improve your treatment protocol.
Reason Three: To understand when the treatment is, and is not, working.
Not every treatment works on every patient. In fact, there are some conditions that have so many different treatment options simply because there is no one method that works. For example, mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia all have several different drug options because the medications that work on one patient often don’t work in another. It’s also not unusual for patients to have to try multiple medications, and medication combinations, until they find one that does work.
Unfortunately, patients often don’t realize that it’s possible for a treatment to be unsuccessful. They might not even realize that a specific treatment is not working the way it’s supposed to. As a result, their condition doesn’t improve, and can even get worse.
Why is this important?
By learning as much as you can about your condition, including signs, symptoms, prognosis, and the success rates of different treatments, you can be an active participant in your care. You can also keep your doctor in the loop if it appears that a treatment is not achieving the desired effect, which will make you healthier in the long run.
You don’t have to spend years in medical school, or start reading scientific journals to learn about your condition. In fact, there are several reputable medical sites designed to teach lay people about their illnesses. These sites include:
· The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
· Information sites for individual diseases and conditions, such as The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, The American Diabetes Association, or The American Heart Association;
There are also patient advocacy sites that are run by individuals with certain disorders who have done research and wish to share it with others. However, these sites can have varying degrees of accuracy.
If the person is writing on a website like About.com, chances are his information is being reviewed by an expert for accuracy. However, if he is publishing information at his own website, there might not be any medical oversight.
Generally, you should be wary of sites that tend to push miracle cures, or actively encourage stopping medical treatment in favor of alternative cures.
It’s also good to compare and contrast the information you find at these individual sites, with the information at the reputable, peer-reviewed sites.