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9 Lifestyle Illnesses Plaguing Older Adults, And How to Treat Them

By KellyRose McAleer - October 15, 2014

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As we grow older, our bodies begin to slow down and the effects of our lifestyle become apparent. While little things like flossing every night or taking more aspirin than the bottle recommended never used to affect us, those choices can come back to affect our health now. But while lifestyle illnesses are a regular part of growing older, there are ways to treat and prevent them before they take over.

1. Obesity

Obesity is the point when a person’s weight endangers their health, as it can lead to Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, and more. To find out if you are obese, you can use the body mass index formula to assess your height to weight ratio. A BMI of 30 or higher means you are putting your body at risk for health complications.

Treatment: Your doctor can help you create a long-term plan that includes healthier eating (as opposed to eating less), and more exercise. Obesity happens when your calorie intake is greater than the number of calories you are burning, so if you adjust your lifestyle then you can improve your health. A good parameter is to try to lose 10% of your body weight in 6 months. If making lifestyle changes doesn’t work, medicines and surgery are Plan B.

2. Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that usually affects a joint in the big toe. Gout is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood, which can be a result of overdrinking, obesity, or eating meat and fish high in purines. Gout is most common in men, and will result in repeated episodes of joint stiffness, swelling, and pain until treated.

Treatment: Although the big toe joint is usually affected, gout can affect the joints in your foot, ankle, or knee. Your doctor can give you a shot to help with a gout attack, and prescribe a medicine to reduce the uric acid buildup in your blood for future attacks. Rest the aching joint and take an anti-inflammatory medication. Your diet may also be playing a part, so limit your consumption of meat, seafood, and beer.

3. Hepatitis C

A virus that infects the liver, hepatitis C has few symptoms but affects about 3.2 million people in the US. If symptoms do appear, they include jaundice, loss of appetite, stomach pain, etc. Hep. C can be incurred as a sexually transmitted disease, or from an infected needle.

Treatment: Since hepatitis C can damage the liver, doctors prescribe shots of medication. Newer drugs like Olysio and Solvadi have shown to have fewer and milder side effects.

4. Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis occurs when the mucus membrane in the bronchial tubes of your lungs get inflamed. The inflammation causes the membrane to swell and grow thicker, which narrows the lung’s airways and turns into a persistent cough accompanied by phlegm. Bronchitis can be caused by a life of smoking, or a viral lung infection.

Treatment: Because bronchitis can be caused by smoking, it is very important to quit completely to prevent further damage. A pulmonary rehabilitation therapist can help you to breathe more easily, as will an inhaler to open the inflamed passages in your lungs.

5. COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD can form as a combination of chronic bronchitis and Emphysema. Symptoms include a chronic cough, frequent shortness of breath when doing everyday activities, excessive production of mucus, fatigue, your lips or fingernail beds turning blue, etc. COPD is almost always a result of the airways being irritated from tobacco smoke, although breathing chemical fumes also puts you at risk.

Treatment: First of all, stop smoking. This will prevent your lungs from becoming more damaged. Your doctor will probably prescribe you an inhaler to help open your airways, and oxygen therapy if the COPD is severe. http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/about-copd/symptoms-diagnosis-treatment.html

6. Peptic Ulcer Disease

It is not uncommon for older adults to suffer from painful sores, or ulcers, in the first part of the small intestine or lining of the stomach. Ulcers can be caused by an infection with the bacterium Helicobacter or long-term overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin. The ulcers that do not heal on their own lead to serious health concerns; you should seek treatment if you experience severe pain in your abdomen, or you are vomiting blood.

Treatment: First you’ll take an acid-blocking medication while your doctor sees if your symptoms improve. If the blockers don’t put an end to your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a procedure called an upper endoscopy to explore for abnormalities in the stomach. Ulcers caused by Heliobacter can be treated with a course of antibiotics, while those caused by aspirin are treated with eradication therapy and an advisement to find an alternative painkiller.

7. Periodontal disease, or gum disease

As you grow older you become more susceptible to gum disease as the enamel from your teeth deteriorates. Flossing and brushing become even more important, even as they become difficult to regulate if you have other health problems such as arthritis. But if untreated, your gums can start to pull away from your teeth and leave them vulnerable to infection or loosening. If your teeth begin to feel sensitive or your gums start bleeding when you brush your teeth, it is time to check in with your dentist.

Treatment: First, you will want to control the infection by having your dental hygienist perform a deep-cleaning to remove the plaque from your teeth. This will lessen the bleeding and discomfort. If you catch the gum disease early, you will have to make some lifestyle changes by cutting out smoking and keeping up good dental hygiene every day at home. If the disease has progressed, your dentist may want to talk to you about surgical options.

8. Sexually transmitted diseases

There are many different types of STDs: HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts, gonorrhea, etc. Of the 15.3 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported each year, about half are lifelong infections. STDs can be transmitted via vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Your risk is increased when you have unprotected sex. Your symptoms may include a weakening of the immune system, a genital rash, pain during urination, or pain in your lower belly.

Treatment: STDs such as herpes have no cure, while Hepatitis B can be managed and bacterial STDs can be cured with antibiotics. If you think you might have an STD, contact your physician to make a treatment plan specific to you.

9. Type 2 Diabetes

People with Type 2 Diabetes suffer from hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. If you experience a change in weight, flu-like symptoms, and increased thirst/urination, you may have diabetes. What makes diabetes so dangerous is what it can lead to. If not managed, diabetes can result in vision loss, infections, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney failure, and sometimes amputation.

Treatment: The best prevention and most effective treatment is weight loss. By exercising and limiting your calorie intake, you can lose weight and keep it off while fighting the two biggest causes of diabetes. You will need to monitor your blood sugar as often as your doctor tells you to, and may be put on insulin to help your body process sugars. If your BMI is over 35, you can qualify for bariatric surgery to normalize your blood sugar levels.


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