Review: Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions

Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions (3rd ed.) is the book created to accompany Stanford’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (Click here for more information about the program workshop).

Positive Self-Management

The authors’ emphasize the need for “positive” self-management. As they point out, with a chronic condition it is impossible to avoid some type of management of that condition. Even if we do nothing to manage symptoms, and only suffer, this is still a form of management. The authors encourage us to take a different path by being “proactive” in our “day-to-day management” (1). The book goes on to discuss the skills we will need to meet that objective.

Though not specifically intended for people with pain, this book is a highly relevant and helpful authoritative resource. Like the workshop, it also covers communication skills, talking with healthcare providers, pain, depression, healthy eating, making healthcare decisions, problem solving, and more. Each chapter also has a list of suggested readings for further information on each topic.

Relaxation and distraction techniques for living with pain

I particularly like the chapter, “Using Your Mind to Manage Symptoms.” It has several distraction and relaxation tips that are each worth trying for a couple of weeks at least to find out if they are helpful for you. There is also a wonderful muscle relaxation exercise and a section on breathing control (in ch. 4) that helps with meditation and other relaxation techniques.

Another important, though possibly less expected chapter is, “Sex and Intimacy.” This section is particularly helpful because most people probably feel uncomfortable discussing these issues with their healthcare providers.

The potential pros and cons of this book depend on the person reading it. There is, for example, quite a lot of material devoted to chronic lung disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes. So if you don’t have any of those conditions, then 4 of 21 chapters aren’t particularly useful for you. On the other hand, I don’t have any of those things, but I am really glad I have the book anyway. The other chapters are well worth my investment.

Similarly, the exercise section has good fitness tips for anyone, but the focus is definitely on helping those who probably do not have a fitness program already. There are, however, exercising tips for specific chronic conditions which may be particularly helpful.

While I have found this book useful, I wish it included some tips particularly relevant for different age groups. I would like to see tips for the busy professional, some ideas for talking with children about a parent’s chronic condition, and coping skills for younger people. I am reminded of someone I once met who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 19. She reminded me that we cope with our conditions differently depending on our stage of life because we are encountering different types of challenges.

Oe benefit of the workshop is that you have the opportunity to get those kinds of tips from other participants, especially those with more years of experience.

Managing your symptoms

The important thing to realize about this type of book is that you need to evaluate your current symptoms and health habits and choose options from these books that will suit your specific needs. For example, a gentleman once asked me if an exercise in the book was appropriate for his condition. The answer to that question is always: If you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor. Whatever decisions you make about your chronic condition management need to make sense for you.

The authors have so much expertise that I am not going to bother summarizing it. If you want to be wowed, follow the links below for more information about the authors of this book:

Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH
Halsted Holman, MD
David Sobel, MD, MPH
Diana Laurent, MPH
Virginia González, MPH
Marian Minor, RPT, PhD

According to Stanford’s Patient Education Materials page, Living a Healthy Life is also available as an audiobook on CD if you would prefer the audio format. It is also available in: French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Welsh, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, UK, and Canadian versions.

The Bull Publishing website also makes the standard version available as an ebook via itunes, as an ePDF, or in Kindle version.

Lorig, K. et al. Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, 3rd Ed., Bull Publishing 2006.