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Have a Chronic Condition? Know All Your Treatment Options

There may be more than you think

Hearing that you have diabetes, high blood pressure or some other serious condition can be a life-changing moment. Finding the best treatment option to manage it takes a bit longer, but it can make a major difference in your health and well-being.

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Patients often think only their doctors and nurses know what to do. And they do have skills and training to help you. But keep in mind that you're the one with the serious condition. It is important to understand your condition, know how medicines make you feel and describe what matters most to your quality of life.

To help patients better understand their treatment options, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed new tips, consumer guides and other resources. You can even read stories from patients who took time to learn about their treatment options, like Steve.

In 2005, the 33-year-old engineer weighed 300 pounds and was always tired. He thought his sleepiness was due to a thyroid problem, a condition shared by some family members.

Steve was shocked to learn he had type 2 diabetes. Caused by the body's inability to produce or use insulin, diabetes increases the risk for stroke, blindness, kidney damage and other serious problems. Steve's doctor prescribed metformin, a pill to help control blood sugar. He also told Steve to change his diet and go to a diabetes education group.

Steve started a diet with more meat and fewer carbohydrates, which helped him lose weight. But the diet also caused Steve's blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol levels to rise, so he needed more medicine. Meanwhile, Steve could not find a diabetes education group near his work.

Steve knew he needed more information. He began to learn about and compare his treatment options. He visited the American Diabetes Association website. He read how different diabetes medicines work. He found a different one that worked better.

Today, Steve's diabetes is well under control. He feels good and recently finished a 100-mile bike ride!

Annie Randolph, who got her high blood pressure under control after two hospital visits, also explored her treatment options.

Next: Talk with your doctor. >>

When she was first diagnosed with high blood pressure in 1991, Annie wasn't told how serious it could be. If untreated, high blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks and kidney problems. Annie also didn't know that it is called the "silent killer" because some people have no symptoms.

By learning your options, you can find ways to feel better — and live better.

Her first real scare came when she didn't feel well and went to her doctor's office. Her blood pressure level was so dangerously high, Annie's doctor sent her to the hospital right away. After she went home, her doctor prescribed medicines, but Annie admits she did not take them properly. Then she stopped taking her medicines.

After a second stay in the hospital, Annie got serious. She learned more about high blood pressure and different treatment options. Working with her doctor, Annie found the right combination of medicines. She also exercises, now that she knows how important that is to keep her blood pressure under control.

In addition to patient stories, AHRQ's information on treatment options includes:

  • Tips to help you talk with your doctor.
  • An interactive tool to help you and your doctor understand your health priorities.
  • Easy-to-understand patient guides about diabetes, high blood pressure and other health conditions, with lists of the pros and cons of different treatment options.
  • A glossary of medical terms.

Today, we have more options than ever before to treat many diseases and conditions. By learning your options, you can find ways to feel better — and live better.

I'm Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that's my advice on how to navigate the health care system.

You may also like: Can't see your doctor? See a nurse. >>

Carolyn M. Clancy, a general internist and researcher, is an expert in engaging consumers in their health care. She is the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.