Improving Health: My Way - Chronic Diseases

Any adult who has a chronic (ongoing) health condition including among others:



Asthma is a chronic health disorder affecting a substantial proportion of children and adults worldwide. It is characterized by coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing. Asthma symptoms and attacks (episodes of more severe shortness of breath) usually occur after exercise or exposure to allergens, viral respiratory infections, irritant fumes or gases. These exposures cause an inflammation of the airway wall and an abnormal narrowing of the airways, which lead to asthma symptoms. Effective treatment can prevent the onset of symptoms in response to these triggers and can control symptoms once they occur.


For more information about asthma check out the following websites:

The Lung Association

Public Health Agency of Canada 



Arthritis consists of more than 100 different conditions which range from relatively mild forms of tendinitis and bursitis to crippling systemic forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It includes pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and arthritis-related disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, that involve every part of the body. Other forms of the disease, such as gout, are almost never thought of as arthritis, while osteoarthritis is often thought to be the only form of this disease.

The common denominator for all of these conditions is joint and musculoskeletal pain, which is why they are grouped together as 'arthritis.' Often this pain is a result of inflammation of the joint lining. Inflammation is involved in many forms of arthritis and is the body's natural response to injury. The warning signs presented by inflammation are redness, swelling, heat and pain. When a joint becomes inflamed, it may get any or all of these symptoms. This can prevent the normal use of the joint and therefore it can cause the loss of function of that joint.


For more information about arthritis check out the following websites:

The Arthritis Society 

Public Health Agency of Canada


Cancer is a disease that starts in our cells. Our bodies are made up of millions of cells, grouped together to form tissues and organs such as muscles and bones, the lungs and the liver. Genes inside each cell order it to grow, work, reproduce and die. Normally, our cells obey these orders and we remain healthy. But sometimes the instructions get mixed up, causing the cells to form lumps or tumours, or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Tumours can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumour cells stay in one place in the body and are not usually life-threatening.
Malignant tumour cells are able to invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body are called metastases.
The first sign that a malignant tumour has spread (metastasized) is often swelling of nearby lymph nodes, but cancer can metastasize to almost any part of the body. It is important to find malignant tumours as early as possible.
Cancers are named after the part of the body where they start. For example, cancer that starts in the bladder but spreads to the lung is called bladder cancer with lung metastases.


For more information about cancer check out the following websites:

Canadian Cancer Society

Public Health Agency of Canada

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is an extremely debilitating and potentially disabling illness which is characterized by a sudden onset and lasts for at least six months. It is know to affect multiple systems of the body. While the cause of chronic fatigue is not currently known, it can literally hit anyone at any time. The symptoms of chronic fatigue can closely resemble other types of fatigue which can be caused by various disorders and medications.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue:

  • Impaired mental functions

  • Unrefreshing sleep

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Cold or flu like symptoms

  • And a long list of others


Public Health Agency of Canada

Chronic Pain


Chronic pain is pain that has lasted for at least three months. Chronic pain may also be any recurrent pain that occurs at least three times within three months. Chronic pain can be:

  • Persistent: continuous pain, or

  • Recurrent: frequent episodes of pain such as headaches


Unlike acute pain, chronic pain does not serve a useful purpose. Chronic pain is a prolonged, abnormal response to injury. You can think of it as a malfunction in your body's alarm system in which it sends off danger signals for no good reason.


Chronic pain can be associated with diseases like arthritis and cancer or can occur for no known reason (idiopathic). Unlike acute pain, chronic pain serves very little purpose other than to remind a person that their disease is ongoing and requires continued treatment. Chronic pain is what most people with pain suffer from. It requires careful management in order to treat the pain and improve functioning. It is generally harder to treat than acute pain and requires a multi-modal approach. A multi-modal treatment approach uses a combination of medication as well as physical and psychological therapies. There are also specialized chronic pain teams that use an interdisciplinary approach (medicine, nursing, physical therapists, psychologists etc) to treat pain.


There are two types of chronic pain:

  • nociceptive pain - relating to or denoting pain arising from the stimulation of nerve cells (often as distinct from that arising from damage or disease in the nerves themselves).

  • neuropathic pain - 



For more information about Chronic Pain check out the following websites:

Chronic Pain Association of Canada

Canadian Pain Society

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic disease characterized by shortness of breath, cough and sputum production. While symptoms of the disease do not usually appear in people younger than age 55 years, changes to the lung begin many years earlier. COPD is an umbrella term for a number of diseases which include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD progresses slowly over a period of years. Increasing disease severity is associated with more frequent exacerbations, further reductions in airflow and premature death. As the disease advances, shortness of breath limits the activity levels of individuals and reduces their quality of life.


For more information about COPD check out the following websites:

The Lung Association 

Public Health Agency of Canada

Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure (HF), also known as congestive heart failure, is a common condition that develops after the heart becomes damaged or weakened by diseases of the heart including heart attacks and other medical conditions. HF occurs when the pumping action of your heart is not strong enough to move blood around, especially during increased activity or under stress. In addition, the heart muscle may not relax properly to accommodate the flow of blood back from the lungs to the heart. These abnormalities in heart function can cause fluid to back up in your lungs and in other parts of your body such as your ankles. The congestion in your lungs and lack of oxygen may make you feel tired and short of breath. Sometimes the fluid in your lungs can accumulate to the point where it can cause a life-threatening condition called acute pulmonary edema, requiring emergency treatment.

Heart failure is on the rise as more people survive heart attacks and other acute heart conditions. As people with damaged hearts are living longer, they become more susceptible to heart failure. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 Canadians living with heart failure.

Heart failure is a serious condition. There is no cure. However, with lifestyle changes and treatment options, you can manage your condition very well. Many patients can return to a full and normal life. Learning about your heart failure is an important first step in managing your condition.


For more information about heart failure check out the following websites:

Canadian Heart and Stroke Association


Heart failure and salt 

Heart Failure Outreach Program

Seniors and the law 

Know the signs of heart failure

Improving Health: My way

Fridge notes

Your heart is affected

Advanced Health Care Directive: It's Your Choice


Diabetes is a chronic, often debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use glucose as an energy source.

There are three main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children and adolescents, occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. Approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

The remaining 90 per cent have Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children in high-risk populations are being diagnosed.

A third type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects approximately 2 to 4 per cent of all pregnancies (in the non-Aboriginal population) and involves an increased risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child.

Prediabetes refers to a condition where a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes.


For more information about diabetes check out the following websites:

Canadian Diabetes Association     

Public Health Agency of Canada  
Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH) - Evidence on Diabetes Management

There are seven Diabetes teams in the central region. Diabetes teams may include a dietitian, nurse, nurse practitioner or physician who can help you learn to manage your diabetes. For more information about services of Diabetes Care at Central Health visit the Diabetes Care Program.



Depression is not just a temporary change in mood. It is a real medical condition with many emotional, physical, behavioural and cognitive symptoms. People with depression experience feelings of guilt, sadness, emptiness, worthlessness or hopelessness. They lose interest in regular activities and have decreased energy. Many people are ashamed or afraid to ask for help, but depression is a real health problem and there is help available.


Public Health Agency of Canada



Emphysema is a lung condition that causes shortness of breath. In people with emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) are damaged. Over time, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture — creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream.

Most people with emphysema also have chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the tubes that carry air to your lungs (bronchial tubes), which leads to a persistent cough.

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two conditions that make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Treatment may slow the progression of COPD, but it can't reverse the damage.


Fibromyalgia (FM) is a relatively common condition affecting two per cent of Canadians. FM occurs more in women than in men. It is seen most in women older than 40, as the incidence of FM increases with age.

Although researchers initially thought the disease affected muscle tissue, we now know it is due to the impairment of pain processing mechanisms within the central nervous system. The preferred term today is chronic widespread pain.

For more information about fibrobyalgia check out the following websites:

The Arthritis Society 

Heart Disease/Cardiovascular Disease


Cardiovascular disease is a term that refers to more than one disease of the circulatory system including the heart and blood vessels, whether the blood vessels are affecting the lungs, the brain, kidneys or other parts of the body. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in adult Canadian men and women.

The following six types of cardiovascular disease are highlighted below:


  1. Ischemic heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease in Canada and other industrialized countries around the world. It refers to problems with the circulation of blood to the heart muscle. A partial blockage of one or more of the coronary arteries can result in a lack of enough oxygenated blood (ischemia) thus causing symptoms such as angina (chest pain) and dyspnea (shortness of breath). A complete blockage of an artery causes necrosis (damage to the tissues) or a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack.

  2.  Cerebrovascular disease (Stroke) refers to a problem with the circulation of blood in the blood vessels of the brain. A blockage with effects lasting less than 24 hours is referred to as a transient ischemic attack. A complete blockage with long-term effects is referred to as a cerebrovascular thrombosis (clot) or accident or a stroke. Sometimes, a blood vessel in the brain can burst resulting in long term effects.

  3. Peripheral vascular disease affects the circulation primarily in the legs. Patients with this disease typically complain of pain in their calves especially when walking.

  4. Heart failure occurs when the pumping action of the heart cannot provide enough blood to the rest of the body as it is needed. This can happen as a result of damage to the heart muscle, for example from a heart attack, or from excessive consumption of alcohol, or because of a heart muscle disease also called a cardiomyopathy. Patients with heart failure usually suffer from shortness of breath and swelling of the legs. 

  5. Rheumatic heart disease once common in Canada is a major problem in many poor countries. This disease begins with a bacterial infection in childhood, affecting joints and heart valves. The heart problems appear many years later. Often the valves have to be replaced by an operation.

    Other infections can occur attacking the inner tissues of the heart including the valves (endocarditis) and the outer tissue overlying the heart (pericarditis).

  6. Congenital heart disease is a problem with the structure of the heart arising because of a birth defect. These anatomical defects can be as simple as a small hole in one of the inside walls of the heart or they can be very complex, affecting the way blood flows through the heart and lungs. Some congenital heart problems result in death unless immediately corrected by surgical intervention. Others cause disability to varying degrees and are treated by surgery later in life with correction of the problem sometimes requiring more than a single operation.



For more information about heart diseases check out the following websites:

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 

Public Health Agency of Canada 

High Blood Pressure/Hypertension

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. It's important to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels (known as arteries). The top number represents the pressure when your heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic).

Blood pressure that is consistently more than 140/90 mm Hg when measured in the doctor's office or 135/85 mmHg when measured at home is considered high. If you have diabetes, 140/90 mm Hg is high.

Normal blood pressure is between 120/80 mm Hg and 129/84 mm Hg.

If your blood pressure is between 130/85 mm Hg and 139/89 mm Hg, you have "high-normal" blood pressure, which is more likely to develop into high blood pressure.



For more information about hypertension/high blood pressure check out the following websites:

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada 

Multiple Sclerosis


MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It attacks myelin, the protective covering around the nerves of the central nervous system, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin. MS may affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility.

MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial. Currently there is no cure, but each day researchers are learning more about what causes MS and are zeroing in on ways to prevent it.


MS Society of Canada



Obesity is a complex disorder involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It increases your risk of diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Being extremely obese means you are especially likely to have health problems related to your weight.

Many organizations including the Canadian Obesity Network, the Canadian Medical Association, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization now consider obesity to be a chronic disease. 

Health Risks of Obesity:

  • High blood pressure

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • stroke

  • sleep apnea and other breathing problems

  • some cancers


Health Canada

Mayo Clinic



Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while a tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson's disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In the early stages of Parkinson's disease, your face may show little or no expression, or your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson's disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

Although Parkinson's disease can't be cured, medications may markedly improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.


Parkinson Canada

Health Canada - Parkinson's Awareness Month Blog



A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It is caused by the interruption of flow of blood to the brain (ischemic stroke) or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The interruption of blood flow or the rupture of blood vessels causes brain cells (neurons) in the affected area to die.

The effects of a stroke depend on where the brain was injured, as well as how much damage occurred. A stroke can impact any number of areas including your ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason and read and write.

Stroke is a medical emergency. Recognizing and responding immediately to the stroke warning signs by calling 9-1-1 or your local emergency number can significantly improve survival and recovery.


For more information about stroke check out the following websites:

Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation
Public Health Agency of Canada

Central Health's Regional Stroke Program