1Being diagnosed with a “chronic” disease like arthritis or diabetes often comes as a shock. Changes sneak up on our bodies or slowly weaken our ability to do our chores or enjoy pastimes. We don’t want to hear that our “little problem” is the first sign of a terrible disease.

But doctors all agree that treatments work better when diseases are diagnosed early. So why do we put off going to the doctor? That’s easy. The body has the ability to heal on its own, and we rely on it. Home remedies often do the trick. Aches and pains often go away. But quirky things that don’t go away should be checked out by your doctor.

Chronic diseases like diabetes and arthritis are usually not life-threatening when they first appear, so we must live with them a long time. Early diagnosis helps reduce damage to internal organs. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, being a good patient is a much bigger job — controlling diet and exercise every day, so your blood and urine “numbers” come out good.

Arthritis is another chronic disease. Again, being a good patient is difficult. Overusing our joints and wearing down the cartilage between our joint bones causes osteoarthritis. Bones don’t like rubbing together and the resulting inflammation is very painful. Yet, to be a good patient, you must gently exercise the joint every day. It doesn’t make sense, but sitting around until the joint gets stiff just makes things worse. A little painful exercise in the morning decreases pain all day.

Rheumatoid arthritis asks even more of patients who just want relief from pain and fatigue. Doctors know that can only happen if they can get the disease into remission. So being a good patient requires patience, trust and doing exactly what the doctor prescribes, even though you are still tired and in pain.

One great way to be a good patient is to learn as much as you can. Ask your doctor or clinic for educational materials and beware of expensive “supplements” that claim to cure everything. Remember, informed patients are good patients.

For more information on arthritis, visit: www.arthritis.org/hawaii; to educate yourself about diabetes visit: www.diabetes.org.

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