The World Health Organization defines chronic illness as one with a complex cause, a long development period, and long-lasting effects. In other words, there are a lot of chronic illnesses and a lot of misconceptions about them. With things like Narcolepsy, Degenerative Disc Disease, and Osteoarthritis out there making lives more difficult, it’s important to know what some of the misconceptions about these illnesses are and the truth behind them.
Narcolepsy is a commonly misunderstood sleep disorder, and narcoleptics are often seen as people who “fall asleep at random”. This, however, is far from true. Aside from simply falling asleep, narcolepsy includes symptoms of depression, memory loss, and even some cases of muscle weakness. While many people believe that there is no warning of a narcolepsy attack, people who have it are usually able to determine when they’re having an episode based on how they’re feeling physically and mentally. This allows them to get to a safe place in case they do crash or warn someone they trust.
Another common misconception about narcolepsy is the idea that if someone sleeps a lot, they have it. Just because chronic fatigue (and lots of naps) are common signs, these problems also signify a poor night’s rest. Depression, anxiety, and physical disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can prevent decent sleep as well, so it is always important to talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have.
Degenerative Disc Disease
The biggest cause of lower back pain, Degenerative Disc Disease, is not a disease at all. Instead, disc deterioration in the spine is caused simply by age, the occasional back injury, and everyday wear and tear. Even though this makes Degenerative Disc Disease seem completely unavoidable, there are lots of ways to combat it. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and keeping good posture prevents excess wear on your spine, and thus can keep discs from breaking down more quickly. For people who sit for extended periods, merely getting up to stretch reduces risk as well!
If you have Degenerative Disc Disease, it’s not the end of the world either. While some may say the only treatment is surgery, this is not the case. Pain medications, muscle relaxers, and physical therapy are all effective forms of treatment as well, and by continuing to exercise, patients can slow their disc deterioration and manage the pain that comes with it. Orthopedic products like back supports also help users maintain good posture, which will further reduce back pain and muscle tension.
Osteoarthritis is quite like Degenerative Disc Disease in that most people believe it’s just a side-effect of old age. However, several factors play into a person’s risk of developing Osteoarthritis. Aside from age, weight, family history, prior joint injuries, and repetitive use can all increase someone’s risk. Stress on the joints and any chemical changes in the body can further increase this risk as well. Cracking your joints, however, does not cause Osteoarthritis. Instead, cracking knuckles pops fluid bubbles in the joints. This may decrease grip strength but can’t cause Osteoarthritis. Cold, damp weather cannot cause Osteoarthritis either, although it can irritate affected joints for people who do have it.
While some say it’s “not that bad,” Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability and joint replacement surgeries in the United States. For some people, joint pain and stiffness are unbearable and can prevent daily activity to the point of keeping the individual bedridden. This doesn’t mean the illness is untreatable, however maintaining a healthy weight and exercising frequently can prevent it. For pain management, prescription and over-the-counter medications can relieve joint pain. Braces and supports for the affected areas can reduce swelling and keep the joints in a comfortable position as well.
How Can I Stop the Stigma?
The easiest way to stop the spread of medical misinformation is to educate. By looking into a loved one’s illness or simply reading accounts of people who have chronic illnesses, you are learning the truth about them, how to lower your own risk, and even find resources that may help those affected get by. By correcting a misconception in conversation, you can turn a discussion into a learning opportunity and spread awareness to your friends, family, and co-workers. Try visiting the Center for Disease Control or the National Alliance on Mental Illness to learn more about various chronic illnesses, and speak with your doctor to find support groups and educational classes.
If you or a loved one has any medical concerns regarding chronic illness, please contact your primary care physician for more information. To explore more pain relief options for joint and back pain, check out the Medical Supply Depot.