Summer is not over yet! While the season brings plenty to celebrate, it can also be a difficult time for people living with chronic disease to stay healthy. Many of the attributes synonymous with summer—warmer weather, travel, sweeter foods, barbecues—also present challenges for chronic disease management.
Diabetes, obesity and heart disease are all chronic diseases that require steadfast commitment from patients year-round. Why does summer bring a unique set of obstacles and what can be done to encourage individuals to stay on track?
Rising Heat, Rising Health Concerns
As the weather continues to warm up, everybody needs to take precautions, especially those with chronic diseases. According to the CDC, people with a chronic medical condition are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. They may also be taking medications that can worsen the impact of extreme heat. For the 133 million Americans living with a chronic disease, warmer temperatures and fluctuating humidity can be exceedingly dangerous, especially during the summer months when temperatures are at their peak.
“Any chronic disease lowers your threshold to heat injury,” says Dr James Knochel. “There’s no question that people with medical conditions are at higher risk, although they may not know it.”
Individuals with type I and II diabetes need to be especially vigilant in the warmer months. People with diabetes feel the heat more excessively than people who don’t for a variety of reasons. Complications from diabetes affect sweat glands so the body can’t cool as effectively, dehydration occurs much faster, and higher temperatures can change how the body uses insulin.
Diabetes, heart disease and obesity also put individuals at a much higher risk for heat stroke due to the body’s inability to effectively regulate temperature. According to Michael McGeehin, director at the US Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Environmental Health, “Anything that interferes with our natural cooling system could lead us to heat exhaustion and heatstroke faster. A lot of medical conditions can do that.”
There are health precautions individuals managing chronic illness can take to ensure the remainder of summer is a safe one. Some recommendations include, drinking plenty of water, implementing the buddy system and regularly checking in with a friend or neighbor, wearing loose, lightweight clothing and regularly checking the local news for health and safety updates.
Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors—including for those living with chronic illness. Taking a few extra precautions greatly decreases risk factors and ensures unnecessary complications are avoided.
Preparation crucial for managing health abroad
With 54 days of summer remaining, many Americans will be hitting the friendly skies and the roads in August for one last getaway. Most would agree, travel these days isn’t easy for anyone. For individual’s managing chronic illness, the challenges can be a bit more serious than long security lines at the airport. Yet, with careful preparation and working closely with a personal physician, a chronic disease should not prevent anyone from experiencing the joys of travel. It can even be enlightening and mentally uplifting.
Whether traveling to Florida or Africa, the first step of planning any itinerary should be to consult with one’s physician to make sure the individual is well enough for travel and to discuss any risks that may be involved. While chronic disease should not cause major limitations, some trips may require a bit more preparation than others.
For travelers heading to more exotic destinations, there are physicians and health professionals available for the chronically ill who specialize in health issues related to more adventurous travel. “Those with chronic disease can feel confident at least knowing what the risks are and taking steps to prevent them.” says Dr. Bradley Connor, M.D., Medical Director, The New York Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine.
Many chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, require medication or medical supplies, such as glucose test strips or insulin needles (verify the airline’s protocol for carrying syringes if flying). Make sure that all medications are up to date and the supply will last the trip. Be a bit over prepared, says Dr. Connor. “If your trip is for two weeks, take four weeks’ worth of medication. We’ve had patients who were stuck in Europe in 2010 when the clouds of volcanic ash from Iceland delayed flights.”
The World Health Organization advises medications be packed in carry-on luggage, in their original containers with clear labels. Pack a duplicate supply in checked luggage as a safety precaution. Physicians should also be consulted as to how best to determine scheduling doses when time zones are crossed. Travelers should also plan to carry the name and contact details of their physician, together with information about the medical condition, treatment, medication details and prescribed doses.
Considering even peanuts are no longer given on flights, travelers should be prepared for limited food choices while traveling, especially for those with specific needs such as patients with diabetes. Plan ahead and pack plenty of suitable snacks for the trip, as well as hard candy, glucose tablets, or gel.
Working closely with a physician and being as prepared as possible are the key ingredients to a successful trip. The internet is teeming with resources to help ensure smooth sailing for those ready to embark on an epic summer journey.
Reap the Benefits of Healthy Summer Eating
For people living with chronic illness, there is no vacation from it and summer can be a challenging time when it comes to making healthy food choices. One study found that regardless of family income, children on summer break consume more sugar, watch more television, and eat fewer vegetables than the rest of the year. Adults struggle as well.
Travel, vacations and the lack of a usual routine can make it difficult to adhere to diet and fitness plans. Yet, as big of a role as food plays in summer activities, with the majority of gatherings centered around food, what a person eats plays an even bigger role in determining how effectively their disease is being managed. Eventually the cookouts, sweet treats and poolside cocktails start to add up and can get dangerous.
Making healthy choices, even during summer, is critical to staying healthy and managing diabetes and obesity successfully year-round. And it’s also very doable.
Fresh fruits and veggies are abundant this time of year with an endless bounty of healthy options at their peak during the summer months. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says summer is a great time to increase daily fruit intake—even for diabetics. At barbeques and picnics, opt for grilled veggie choices and leaner meats.
The American Diabetes Association provides a “Foods to Watch” list which offers a list of foods and beverages to steer clear of and a wider selection of healthy and delicious food choices and recipes that diabetics can enjoy all summer long and feel great about.
Technology Can Help Stave Off Risk
Patients who utilize telemedicine programs as part of their disease management have an added benefit of being able to receive support in real-time, when they need it.
For example, Welkin’s platform enables individuals to ask questions or communicate concerns about food or medication to their care team, where they can be quickly addressed by a care provider via text, email, or smartphone app, from any location. Whether a patient is waiting to board a flight or is concerned about the fare at a friend’s potluck, support is available to ensure patients stay on track.
While summer has a unique set of risks for those afflicted with chronic disease, by being prepared, taking precaution and using the myriad of support systems and tools available, you can make certain that the rest of summer is a safe, healthy and fun one.