Few things are more shocking than finding out that a loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic health condition. It can be a complicated reality for you both to accept, but there are many ways that you can support.
Phillip Carr of Your Yearly Check Up says he "used to be the guy who would put off doctor's appointments, but after a routine checkup revealed he had hypothyroidism, he makes yearly visits a priority." Philip now runs the Your Yearly Checkup blog to not only share his experience but provide readers with valuable health-focused articles too.
Ahead, Phillip shares some first-hand tips on how to support a man in your life living with an autoimmune condition.
Understanding autoimmune disease in men
Typically, the immune system protects your body against foreign invaders. However, an autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's cells or tissues.
Autoimmune diseases develop more frequently in women than in men. Research even suggests that seventy-eight percent of people with autoimmune diseases are women.
Still, men aren't immune to these conditions. Autoimmune diseases that are more common in men, like myocarditis and ankylosing spondylitis, usually appear earlier in life and are characterized by acute inflammation, the appearance of autoantibodies, and a pro-inflammatory immune response.
Researchers know about more than 80 autoimmune diseases. Some are well known, like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or autoimmune thyroiditis. In contrast, others are more unusual and harder to diagnose. These autoimmune diseases affect different parts of the body, but many still share similar symptoms.
Common symptoms of autoimmune disease include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin problems
- Abdominal pain or digestive issues
- Recurring fever
- Swollen glands
Researchers aren't clear on what causes autoimmune disease. Still, several theories suggest that the immune system goes into overdrive after an infection or injury. Risk factors like genetics, being overweight, smoking, or certain medications may increase a person's chance of developing an autoimmune condition.
How to support a man living with a chronic condition
Living with an autoimmune condition can be challenging. The best course of action is to consult with a health care provider about treatment options for your medical condition. Beyond medication, it can be helpful to change your diet and lifestyle. While you cannot cure an autoimmune disease, reducing symptoms and living a full life are possible.
Committing to healthy living and symptom management takes the support of a village. Here are some tips on how to support a man in your life living with an autoimmune condition.
Become an expert on their illness
Some people feel helpless when learning about a loved one's illness. Still, if you take the time to understand what they are going through, then you can sympathize and offer advice when necessary. Listen to your loved ones when they talk about the physical and emotional impact of their condition. You can also do your research to learn about causes, symptoms, and treatments. Managing a chronic illness is much easier when you feel like you're on a team.
Validate their experience
People who live with an autoimmune condition often feel lonely or misunderstood in their experience. Often, these conditions are invisible and come with misconceptions about what they're really like. Validating and believing the needs, feelings, and concerns of someone with an autoimmune disease can help them feel more seen and understood.
Act as their personal assistant, when needed
Depending on the nature of their chronic condition, your loved one may need your help with errands, and you can be their personal assistant of sorts. Your daily routine in this role could include going to the pharmacy for medication or bringing them to the doctor for their appointments. You might also offer to help them with their grocery shopping or drive them to a friend's house so they can share a few laughs.
Encourage their mental health and well-being
Many people who live with an autoimmune condition also experience anxiety or depression. So much of your mental health is tied to your physical health. You may not realize it, but you can assist your loved ones by encouraging their mental health. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to help in this regard. Ask your loved one what they like to do when experiencing anxiety or depression. Take note of what lifts their mood or offer space if that's what they prefer. You can also accompany them to group support meetings if they feel down and need an emotional boost.
Co-create healthy meals
Another excellent way for those with chronic conditions to feel better is by maintaining a healthy diet. When you eat right, you give yourself natural energy, you reduce the chance of other medical complications, and you feel better overall. You can help your loved one eat better by co-creating healthy meals. Together, you can eat a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Natural food sources like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and animal meat are ideal sources to get the nutrients you need. Avoid excess sugar intake, especially in sources with refined sugars or alcohol.
While eating healthy is a good first step, you can also help someone with a chronic disease by encouraging them to exercise. No need to run a marathon, but by spending some time every day moving their body, they'll stay in good shape and keep their blood flowing when they need it most. Even better if you can exercise along with them, so they know that you are with them all the way.
Grocery shopping, meal prep, house cleaning, running errands, or yard work can all be excellent ways to support someone living with an autoimmune condition. In the end, though, simply being a friend who listens is enough. The best support you can give is patience and understanding.