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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Self-Management Skills in Chronic Illness

Most people are capable of pulling their resources and energy together to deal with acute health problems such as a cold or pneumonia. Acute health problems begin with a sudden onset, are easily diagnosed, are relatively short lived, and the treatment results in cure of the acute illness. On the other hand, chronic illness has a gradual onset, can be difficult to diagnose, lasts for and indefinite amount of time, has a rocky course, and is rarely cured.

Chronic illness affects all aspects of a person's life and may require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes for the person to continue functioning at a desirable level. One example to consider is pain. Pain acts as a warning signal to our body indicating a problem. In acute pain, once the cause is treated then the pain goes away. Chronic pain such as that experienced by someone with arthritis or lupus is different. Often a pain cycle may develop. Once the cycle begins it is difficult to stop. Medical treatment and self-management are important ways to intervene and stop the pain cycle.

Pain cycle: pain, fatigue, withdrawal, depression

The pain cycle visually represents what may occur in a person with a chronic illness such as lupus. The end points (pain, fatigue, withdrawal, depression) may differ from one individual to the next. It is the continuous cycle that poses a problem as it can keep a person from pursuing his/her interests and vocation. It is helpful and possible to prevent this cycle from occurring. It is necessary to find interventions that stop the cycle and help the person live successfully with his/her chronic illness. Medical treatment, alternative health measures, and self-management are examples of interventions aimed at stopping the continuous cycle.

Self-management skills refer to all the daily decisions a person makes to attain the greatest possible physical functioning and mental outlook to positively manage his/her chronic illness:

  • communication,
  • coping strategies and stress reduction,
  • physical activity and exercise,
  • managing medications,
  • nutrition, and
  • decisions about medical and alternative health care options.

We will discuss each of these.

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Last Update: Oct 19 2012