People with high blood pressure are at increased risk of developing other health conditions. Amongst these are heart attacks and stroke. However, around a third of adults have high blood pressure; many do not even realise it. This makes it important to do everything you can to lower your blood pressure.
Identifying High Blood Pressure
Generally speaking, people will not be aware that they have high blood pressure unless they are tested for it. Otherwise, it will be picked up on when other conditions are developed.
Adults over 40 are advised to get their blood pressure checked at least every five years. This can be done by your GP. However, it may be worth getting tested more regularly if you are in any of the following risk categories:
- Exercise irregularly
- Regularly drink alcohol or caffeine-based drinks
- Poor sleeper
- Black African or Caribbean descent
- Are over 65
If you are found to have high blood pressure, your doctor will offer advice on bringing your blood pressure back down. You will likely need more tests to keep track of your blood pressure until it's at normal levels again.
Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
Most of the time, blood pressure can be lowered by making lifestyle changes. However, some people will also be given medication.
The speed at which lifestyle changes will lower your blood pressure varies. Some can bring it down within a few weeks. Others will take longer. However, the following changes could return your blood pressure to safe levels.
People who smoke are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, every cigarette will temporarily increase your blood pressure, and continued smoking makes it harder for your body to return to normal levels. Therefore, stopping smoking can help to lower blood pressure.
Regular exercise helps to keep your cardiovascular system in good shape. This means your body will find it easier to pump blood around your body, which will aid in lowering blood pressure. During exercise, it is normal for blood pressure to rise. As a result, though blood pressure returns to normal levels after exercising, people with high blood pressure should exercise with caution. Consult your doctor before taking up any exercise regimes; they may be able to prescribe medication to reduce any risks.
According to Blood Pressure UK, the following exercises are good for your blood pressure:
Being more active will likely contribute to a loss of weight. Fortunately, losing weight is another effective means of lowering blood pressure. People who are overweight have an excess of fat in their circulatory system, which can affect the flow of blood. Losing weight takes pressure off your circulatory system, which in turns lowers blood pressure.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone, whether they have high blood pressure or not. It is also an effective means of losing weight. When trying to lower blood pressure, it is important to keep fat intake low, as this can settle in veins and arteries.
Another important part of eating a healthy diet is reducing your salt intake. People with high blood pressure should aim to be consuming no more than 6g of salt per day - roughly a teaspoon. One way of lowering your salt intake is to prepare your own meals and use different forms of seasoning. Many of us think that salt is necessary to add flavour, but you can experiment with healthier herbs and spices instead. Even something as simple as making your own tomato soup instead of a store-bought can could drastically reduce your salt intake.
Drink Less Alcohol
We are a nation of drinkers, and it has become normal to drink a pint of bitter or a glass of wine at the end of a long day. However, drinking regularly can increase your blood pressure. To lower your blood pressure, you should cut down how much you drink. It's okay to drink small amounts during the week, but you should remain under the advised limit. Regular drinking can cause your blood pressure to remain high even once all the alcohol is out of your system.
Drink Less Caffeine
Caffeinated drinks also contribute to high blood pressure. Like alcohol, you should try to consume less caffeine as part of your diet. This means drinking less coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks. Focus on low sugar juices and squashes instead.
Lower Blood Pressure with Medication
If you have high blood pressure, lifestyle changes alone may not always be enough. In some cases, you may be given blood pressure medication to help lower it.
Under-5ss are likely to be offered an ACE inhibitor or ARB. These relax the blood vessels to lower blood pressure. They may cause headaches or dizziness; if you experience side effects with ACE inhibitors, your doctor is more likely to switch you onto ARBs.
Over-55s, and people of African or Caribbean origin, are more likely to be offered a calcium channel blocker. This medication widens your blood vessels, helping to reduce blood pressure. You may experience swollen ankles or constipation while using this medication. Grapefruit juice has been reported to worsen these symptoms.
Beta blockers used to be prescribed as treatment for high blood pressure but are used less often today. This medication slows your heartrate to lower blood pressure. They will likely only be provided if other treatments have failed.
Peace of Mind for People with High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, you may be worried about the potential effects it could have on your body. Though you can reduce these risks by making certain lifestyle changes, we recognise the importance of peace of mind. A personal alarm from Lifeline24 means you can call for help at the press of a button if you feel unwell or have a fall.
The Lifeline24 personal alarm connects you to our 24/7 Response Team at the press of a button. They have been TSA Accredited to ensure you are always in safe hands. When your alarm is activated, our professional team arrange help by informing your emergency contacts and, when necessary, the emergency services.
For additional peace of mind, purchase our fall detector plan. In the event of a fall, the pendant will automatically alert our team. If you feel unwell, it can be activated the same as our personal alarm pendant.
To find out more about the Lifeline24 personal alarm service, read our detailed guide. If you have any questions, call us on 0800 999 0400 to speak to our friendly customer service team. Order your Lifeline24 personal alarm today.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition affecting around 4.5 million people in the United Kingdom. That means more than one in 16 people have the condition. According to the NHS, the number of people with diabetes has nearly trebled since 1996. By 2030, they estimate that around five million people will have diabetes.
The Facts and Stats report from Diabetes UK, released in 2016, says that around 700 people receive a diabetes diagnosis every day. This is equal to one person every two minutes. They also estimate that there are around 1.1 million people living with undiagnosed diabetes.
Given that the numbers are constantly growing, we've compiled this diabetes guide. You may have seen our in-depth guide to the medical conditions which affect older people. Today’s article focuses on diabetes, as we look at the symptoms, treatments, and possible causes of the condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes causes your blood sugar (glucose) levels to become too high. We all need glucose since this is what gives our bodies energy. The job of the pancreas is to detect glucose in the blood and release insulin. Insulin allows glucose to enter our cells. When you have diabetes, your pancreas might not make any insulin at all, it might not make enough insulin, or the body might not be able to use the insulin that it makes. This means that, without treatment, glucose is left to build up in the bloodstream.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 2 is the most common form of Diabetes and around 90% of all adults with the condition have this version. This type is when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin for the body, or when the insulin produced doesn't work correctly.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce any insulin at all. To help give you a further understanding of the two types of diabetes we will now go into detail about each one.
Type 1 Diabetes
As mentioned previously, Type 1 diabetes occurs due to there being no insulin inside your body. This is because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed the vital cells that produce insulin. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is currently unknown; however, it has been discovered that it is not caused by your lifestyle choices.
Other names for this condition include Juvenile Diabetes and Early-Onset Diabetes due to the fact that it is more common in people under the age of 40 and usually affects people during their teenage years.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include:
- Weight loss - Your body will begin to break down its own fat and muscle, causing you to lose a lot of body weight.
- Dehydration - A reaction to symptom number one, your bloodstream can become acidic causing you to feel extremely thirsty and dehydrated.
- Needing the toilet more - This is especially concerning if you are constantly getting up throughout the night to go to the toilet.
- Tiredness - You may feel constantly weaker and tired throughout the day.
- Blurred vision.
- Itching in your genitals.
- Cuts taking longer to heal.
The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes develop quickly over a period of three or four weeks. You should visit your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above.
If you are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes you will need regular insulin injections throughout your life in order to keep your glucose levels normal. When you are first diagnosed you will be taught how to do this and how to match the amount of insulin with the types of food you eat and the amount of exercise you do.
Injections are done using an injection pen and most people need to do this between 2-4 times a day. An alternative to the pen is an insulin pump, which offers more flexibility and control over your condition. Diabetes UK say the following about the insulin pump:
"An insulin pump is a battery-operated device that provides your body with regular insulin throughout the day. The insulin is provided via a tiny, flexible tube (cannula), inserted under the skin. The tube can be left in for two to three days before it needs to be replaced and moved to a different insulin injection site."
Alongside the injections, those with Type 1 also need to check their blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is done by doing a quick finger prick blood test to ensure that your levels aren't too high or too low. Again, your doctors will explain what your ideal blood glucose levels should be.
Type 1 diabetes can put you at an increased risk of other medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and a stroke. In order to reduce your risk, you may be advised to take medicines to help control high blood pressure, a statin to reduce high cholesterol levels and a low-dose aspirin to help prevent a stroke.
Living with Type 1 Diabetes
If you're diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes you will need to stick to a healthy diet that is high in fibre, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and low in fat, salt, and sugar. It's important to regularly eat and include starchy carbohydrates such as pasta. A special diabetes dietitian will sit down with you personally to help you through your eating plans.
It's also very important to exercise on a regular basis, to help keep your blood glucose level down. It is recommended that you aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. You should always speak to your doctor before starting a new activity.
If you're a smoker or heavy drinker, you will also need to cuts these habits out of your life. Diabetes already increases the risk of heart problems, but smoking can increase this risk even further. Alcohol, on the other hand, can have an adverse effect on your blood glucose levels and can also affect your ability to carry out your insulin treatments.
People living with Type 1 diabetes will also need to be extra careful with their feet. The condition is linked to poor blood circulation in the feet and the blood glucose can damage the nerves. You will be at greater risk of developing problems such as foot ulcers and infections. To help reduce this risk you should:
- Wear shoes that fit properly.
- Visit a foot care specialist regularly.
- Check your feet for cuts, blisters, or grazes.
- Visit your doctor if you have a foot injury that doesn't begin to heal within a few days.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 occurs when there isn't enough glucose being produced, and any that is produced ends up not working correctly. We need insulin to help move glucose out of our blood and into our cells, so we can use it for energy.
This form of the condition is often linked to obesity and, unlike Type 1, is more common in older people. Other factors which can cause Type 2 diabetes include family history, age, and your ethnic background. According to Diabetes UK, 12.3 million people are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Why not read our article on Common Causes of Type-2 Diabetes for more details on your risk factors?
The symptoms of Type 2 are very similar to Type 1. However, they don't develop as quickly or strongly, which means you may have the condition for many years without even realising. Diabetes UK offer a 'Know Your Risk' test online to help to determine your type 2 diabetes risk level.
As always, if you feel that you may have some of the symptoms linked to this condition you should book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
After being diagnosed with Type 2 you will be told by your GP to make lifestyle changes in order to look after your health. The three major areas that you'll need to look at and make changes to are:
- Healthy eating - Increasing the amount of fibre and reducing your sugar and fat intake.
- Losing weight - Do this by gradually reducing your calorie intake and becoming more physically active.
- Exercising regularly - It is important to keep active by completing a range of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
As this form of the condition gets worse over time, these changes may not be enough. Eventually, you may be required to take medication to help control your blood glucose levels. To begin with, this will usually be in the form of tablets or injections.
The first medicine commonly used to help treat Type 2 is known as Metformin. This medication reduces the amount of glucose released into your bloodstream by the liver, and makes your body's cells more responsive to insulin. Other types of medication include:
- Sulphonylureas - This increases the amount of insulin produced by your pancreas.
- Pioglitazone - This makes your body's cells more sensitive to insulin, so that more glucose is taken from your blood.
- Gliptins - These work by preventing the breakdown of a natural hormone known as GLP-1, which helps the body to produce insulin in response to high blood glucose levels.
Your risk of heart disease, suffering from a stroke and kidney disease does increase if you have Type 2 diabetes so it is advised that you take other medicines such as anti-hypertensive medicine to control high blood pressure. Further treatment and dietary information can be found on the NHS website.
Living with Type 2
As previously mentioned, you will need to make various lifestyle changes once you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Your well-being and health should be your focus, and you will need to live a healthy lifestyle in order to look after your body.
Once diagnosed you will be given a diabetes Response Team who you'll be in regular contact with. They will check your eyes, feet and nerves regularly because they can also be affected by diabetes. Various tests will also be carried out at least once a year to see how well your condition is being controlled.
As well as following the tips given in the treatment section of this article, you will also need to have your eyes screened once a year to check for diabetic retinopathy. This is an eye condition where the small blood vessels in your eye become damaged. This happens if your blood glucose level is too high for a long period of time. If this is left untreated you may suffer sight loss.
Did you know that around three in five cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed? The best way to reduce your risk is by eating better, moving more, and losing weight if you're overweight.
If your doctor places you at risk of the condition, you will be given plenty of advice on the types of foods you should be eating and the amount of physical activity you should be taking part in each week. You should take this warning very seriously if you are to prevent being diagnosed.
The healthier and more active you are, the lower risk you have of diabetes. The best thing to do is to set yourself clear goals: How much weight do you want to lose by a certain date? What weight do you wish to lift by this date?
You should always try your best to plan ahead when it comes to your meals, especially if you work full-time. It's too easy to choose a takeaway when you get home from work after a long day. Take a look at the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme for more useful tips.
Diabetes qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product that has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. These criteria state that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness, or a disability in order to qualify.
Staying Safe at Home
A personal alarm can help protect people if they suffer from medical conditions like diabetes. If one of our alarm users feels unwell or suffers a fall, they can press their pendant button and help will be arranged immediately. By opting for our fall detector plan, an alert will be sent automatically if they have a fall.
For more information on purchasing one of our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 22nd June 2022 to reflect current information.
Dementia is one of the most common medical conditions among older people. An estimated 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK. What's more, this figure is expected to rise over the coming years. In fact, according to Alzheimer's Research UK, one million people will have the condition by 2025, rising to two million by 2050 - that's an increase of 146%. We have already published a detailed guide to the most common types of dementia. Today, we'll be focusing especially on dementia symptoms. In particular, we'll discuss the warning signs of the four most common forms of dementia.
Dementia Symptoms: Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most well-known and common form of dementia, accounting for two thirds of all dementia cases in the UK. This adds up to more than 500,000 people. Alzheimer's is a physical condition which affects the brain. It takes its name from the doctor who first described it: Alois Alzheimer. The condition affects the connections of the nerve cells in your brain. As a result, proteins build up and form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually, nerve cells die, leading to a loss of brain tissue.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's progress slowly and affect people at different rates. In fact, it is highly unlikely that any two people with Alzheimer's will experience the condition in the same way. Furthermore, the severity of the symptoms can also be affected by other medical conditions such as infections and a stroke.
Perhaps the most well-known of all dementia symptoms is memory loss. This is the main symptom of early-stage Alzheimer's. In time, memory loss can have any of the following results:
- Misplacing items
- Forgetting the names of places and objects
- Forgetting recent conversations or events
- Asking questions repetitively
- Struggling to think of the right word
- Poor judgement
- Having trouble making decisions and being hesitant to try new things
Alongside the memory loss, you may also suffer from mood swings, becoming anxious, agitated and/or confused.
As you move into the middle stage of the condition, the initial memory problems tend to get worse. Lots of people begin to forget the names and faces of their loved ones. New symptoms may appear too:
- Impulsive, repetitive and/or obsessive behaviour
- Speech problems
- Suffering from delusions or paranoia
- Becoming more confused and disorientated
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty in performing spatial tasks
Because Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition, dementia symptoms will worsen as time goes by. In the later stages, this can be distressing for people with the condition as well as their loved ones. The person affected may become suspicious of those around them, or may even display violent behaviour. Several new dementia symptoms can also appear. These include:
- Trouble eating and swallowing
- Losing weight
- Gradual loss of speech
- Short and long-term memory problems
- Movement problems
At this stage of Alzheimer's disease, people generally need full-time assistance with eating, moving and personal care.
Dementia Symptoms: Vascular Dementia
Next, let's discuss the second most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia affects around 150,000 people (17% of all cases). This condition is caused by a reduced flow of blood to the brain. Dementia symptoms in vascular cases can begin suddenly or appear slowly over time. Early symptoms of the condition include:
- Difficulty planning things
- Trouble understanding
- Concentration difficulty
- Mood changes
- Slowness of thought
- Mild problems with memory and language
At first, symptoms may not be obvious. They can even be confused for other conditions like depression. In any case, if you experience any of the symptoms above, you should contact your doctor.
As dementia progresses, symptoms get worse. This either happens gradually or in sudden steps every few months or years. Depending on the part of the brain affected, later symptoms include:
- Feelings of confusion/disorientation
- Memory loss
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Severe personality changes
- Mood swings
- Depression and related symptoms
- Difficulty walking and keeping balance
Dementia Symptoms: Dementia with Lewy Bodies
All in all, dementia with Lewy bodies (or DLB) accounts for 10-15% of all cases - that's 100,000 people. It shares many symptoms with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. In fact, many people confuse it with Parkinson's disease. The symptoms of DLB often come on gradually and slowly get worse over several years. The main symptoms are:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty with your visual perception
- Judgement problems
- Trouble understanding things
- Language problems
The issues listed above may be constant, but typically come and go over periods of time. Most DLB symptoms can be seen in other types of dementia too. However, there are a few dementia symptoms that are unique to Lewy body dementia. They are:
- Movement problems, similar to Parkinson's disease
- Unsteadiness, increasing the risk of falls
- Visual hallucinations
- Vivid dreams which might disrupt sleep
- Problems with the sense of smell
Everyday activities may also become increasingly difficult, and other health problems may arise. Most people with DLB eventually need daily care and support.
Dementia Symptoms: Frontotemporal Dementia
Unlike some other forms of dementia, the first symptoms of frontotemporal dementia are not usually memory-related. Instead, frontotemporal dementia tends to begin with behaviour changes or language issues. This is a particularly rare form of dementia which affects the front and side lobes of the brain. In most cases, frontotemporal dementia affects slightly younger people. Those between the ages of 45 and 65 are most likely to be diagnosed. However, it is like other forms of dementia in that it develops slowly over several years.
Behavioural symptoms include:
- Acting impulsively
- Losing overall interest in people and things
- Being insensitive or rude
- Loss of inhibitions
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Seeming subdued
Language-related symptoms include:
- Repeating a few phrases consistently
- Getting words in the wrong order
- Mixing up words - for example, calling a dog a cat
- Hesitating while speaking or speaking very slowly
As this condition progresses, some people also begin experiencing mental symptoms. In contrast, these symptoms are quite rare in the early stages of the condition.
Mental symptoms include:
- Difficulty recognising familiar people/objects
- Getting distracted easily
- Poor judgement or lack of organisation
- Difficulty making decisions, needing clear instructions
To repeat, you should contact your GP if you experience any of the symptoms we've discussed today. Even if you aren't sure whether they're related to dementia, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Early diagnosis is without a doubt one of the biggest factors in the success of dementia treatment.
Learn More About Dementia
In summary, if you’re looking to learn more about dementia, you can read our in-depth guide to the condition on the blog. You’ll also find some useful tips on how to cope with the condition daily.
What's more, we also have a guide to the 20 most common medical conditions which affect older people, if you or a loved one has any other health problems.
If you have just received a dementia diagnosis, or you know someone who has, then it's worth considering a personal alarm from Lifeline24. For further information on our personal alarm service, please speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
You can read this comprehensive guide to the personal alarm in order to find out more.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 20th June 2022 to reflect current information.
Asthma is a long-term medical condition that affects the lungs and airways. With millions of children and adults affected, it is one of the most common medical conditions in the United Kingdom.
According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for the condition. Of those affected, 4.3 million cases are adults and 1.1 million are children. These figures mean that asthma affects one in every 11 people, and one in five households across the country.
"Every 10 seconds somebody is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack in the UK. Each day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack." - Asthma UK.
Sadly, more than 1,300 people in England died as a result of asthma in 2018 (the most recent available data). These statistics can be quite frightening, but research has shown that two thirds of asthma-related deaths are preventable with the right treatment and understanding.
You may have seen our in-depth guide to the medical conditions which affect older people. Today’s article focuses specifically on asthma. We'll look at the symptoms, treatments, and possible causes of the condition.
What Causes Asthma?
Sometimes, substances like pollen, dust, or smoke can irritate our airways. However, the airways of asthmatic people are already inflamed and sensitive to begin with. Therefore, irritants (triggers) can cause several reactions in sufferers:
- Inflammation and swelling of the airways
- A build-up of sticky mucus or phlegm in the airways
- Tightening of muscles around the airways
All of these reactions narrow the space through which air can flow, which is what causes many of asthma's core symptoms.
These reactions can occur as a result of asthma triggers, or at random. Common triggers also include animal fur, pollution, chest infections, certain medications, and even the weather. Asthma UK recognises several different categories of asthma:
- Allergic: triggered by allergens like pollen and dust
- Seasonal: flares up at certain points in the year, often depending on weather and temperature
- Occupational: a result of the work you do
- Non-allergic: a rarer form of asthma, unrelated to allergy triggers
Luckily, medication can be very effective at managing symptoms. However, around 4% of asthmatic people have 'severe asthma' which does not respond to the usual medication.
Anyone's asthma can change over time, becoming more or less severe. Lots of mildly asthmatic children often find that their symptoms subside as they get older.
There are several symptoms of asthma, which vary from mild to more severe. Not everybody will experience every symptom all the time. The most common symptoms are:
- Wheezing - A whistling sound whilst you're breathing
- A tight chest
Sometimes, your symptoms can become worse for a short period of time. This is commonly known as an asthma attack. These attacks can happen suddenly or gradually over a few days. They can be fatal, so it's very important to be aware of the signs.
Symptoms of an Asthma Attack
- Your usual symptoms (coughing, wheezing, tight chest) are getting worse.
- Your reliever inhaler is not helping.
- You struggle to speak, eat, or sleep due to breathlessness.
- Your breath is getting faster/you feel like you can't catch your breath.
What To Do If You Suffer an Asthma Attack
Every 10 seconds, someone in the UK has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Research has shown that, with the correct treatment, you can control your symptoms and reduce the risk.
If you think you're having an asthma attack you need to follow these steps, suggested by the NHS:
- Sit upright and try to take slow, steady breaths. Do not lie down. Try to stay calm; panicking can make it worse.
- Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (blue) every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
- Call 999 immediately if you don't have your inhaler with you, if you feel worse despite using your inhaler, if you don't feel any better after 10 puffs, or if you're worried at any point.
- If an ambulance has not arrived after 15 minutes, repeat Step 2.
If your symptoms improve and you don't require hospital treatment, you should still make an urgent appointment to see your GP or an asthma nurse.
Should you go to hospital, you will need to see your GP within 48 hours of being discharged. 1 in 6 people who receive treatment in hospital for an asthma attack need hospital care again within two weeks. Therefore, it's very important to discuss how to reduce your risk.
There is currently no cure for asthma. However, there are several effective treatments that help alleviate symptoms.
The most common form of treatment is an inhaler. There are two main types of inhalers:
- Reliever Inhaler - These can relieve symptoms for a short period of time. They are commonly blue.
- Preventer Inhaler - These reduce the inflammation in your breathing tubes. They need to be used twice daily in order to be most effective. They are commonly brown.
Some patients may be prescribed a 'combination inhaler'. This includes a combination of a long-acting reliever and a corticosteroid preventer.
By using your inhaler correctly, you can manage your condition and reduce the chances of an attack. Taking your inhaler correctly will help with everyday tasks, such as walking up and down the stairs.
Your doctor or nurse will be able to show you the correct way to use your inhaler. You need to use the right technique for the device to actually work effectively.
If your inhalers aren't helping with your condition, your GP might prescribe additional medicines to help. The most common tablets used to help treat asthma include:
- Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists - These are taken once a day to help stop your airways from becoming inflamed. These tablets are also available as granules or syrup for children.
- Theophyllines - These help relax the muscles around the airways, helping you breathe more easily.
- Steroids - These can be used as a short-term treatment for an asthma attack or a long-term treatment to control your symptoms.
Living with Asthma
With the correct treatment, most asthmatic people can live normal lives. The most important factor is to keep your symptoms under control, by using your inhalers correctly and avoiding your triggers.
It's important to work closely with your GP or nurse to make sure you're using the proper inhaler technique. You should also be aware that some other medicines may put you at risk. For example, some aspirin and ibuprofen may not be suitable for asthma sufferers. Always check the packet.
If you smoke, it is crucial that you quit immediately. Smoking is a known asthma trigger, which can cause severe and frequent symptoms. For help quitting, see our Stop Smoking guide.
Did you know that sports stars David Beckham and Bradley Wiggins have asthma? Regular exercise is a great way to manage your condition.
By raising your heart rate, you boost your lung power and improve stamina. While you might feel breathless in the short term, frequent exercise can actually reduce how often you feel breathless overall. A healthy fitness regime also reduces the chances of a cold or cough, due to a boost to your immune system.
If you're a little apprehensive, or if your asthma has been playing up recently, it may be best to stick to moderate-intensity activities. These include swimming, walking, yoga, or team sports which allow you to take a rest between bursts of movement.
Before taking part, you should also make sure that:
- You have your inhaler with you.
- The people you are exercising/playing with know that you have asthma.
- You warm up and cool down thoroughly.
If you notice your symptoms spiking at any point, you should stop, take your inhaler, and wait until you feel better before re-joining your activity.
If you are overweight, research indicates that losing weight could help you manage your condition. Losing excess weight can reduce symptoms and lower your risk of an asthma attack. In addition, losing weight and having a healthy lifestyle can also reduce your risk of other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Staying Safe At Home
A personal alarm can protect people who suffer from medical conditions such as asthma. If one of our alarm users feels unwell or suffers a fall, they simply need to press their pendant button. Our 24/7 Emergency Response Team will answer the call and send help immediately.
For more information on our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisors on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will contact you as soon as possible.
Having asthma qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm from Lifeline24. If you are asthmatic (or you are buying an alarm for somebody else who is) then you will not have to pay any VAT on your Lifeline alarm.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 13th June 2022 to reflect current information.
Around 26 million people in the UK have at least one long-term medical condition. This includes nearly 50% of people aged 65-74 and nearly two-thirds of those over 85. What’s more, the UK’s ageing population means these numbers will only increase in the coming years. In fact, experts predict that by 2030, around seven million older people will have at least one long-term illness or health problem. The ageing population and the increasing rates of long-term medical conditions have had a huge impact on the NHS.
Falls are a particular cause for concern. Even throughout the pandemic, falls remain the leading cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people. A fall can have a serious impact on long-term health, especially for those who suffer from a medical condition.
What Is a Medical Condition?
"Medical condition" is a very broad term. It can refer to any kind of disease, disorder, injury, or illness, including mental illnesses. The older we get, the more likely we are to suffer from at least one medical condition. Some medical conditions are fairly mild and may not make much difference to your day-to-day life, while other medical conditions require intensive treatment.
But what are the most common medical conditions in the UK?
Common Medical Conditions in Older People
Advances in healthcare have helped people in the UK live longer than ever before. As a result, medical conditions have become a more common feature of older life. Thankfully, there is more support than ever for people living with the most common health conditions.
It’s important for us all to understand the most common medical conditions so that we are able to spot the symptoms and get medical assistance when we need it. Furthermore, we should understand how to prevent common illnesses and how to live with them.
Here’s our guide to the most common medical conditions affecting older people.
Table of Contents
Arthritis is one of the most common medical conditions among older people, affecting 10 million people in the UK. It causes joint pain and inflammation, which can restrict your movement.
There are two common types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Among older people, osteoarthritis is more common. This is because osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear; after all, the older we are, the more we have used our joints. Around eight million people in the UK have this type of arthritis. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the lining of the joints.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- Restricted movement
- Inflammation in and around the joints
"Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. It affects people of all ages, including children.” – NHS Choices
The risk of a fall increases if you have arthritis. Therefore, people with medical conditions like arthritis (especially those who live alone) should ensure that they can always call for help if they need it. A personal alarm system lets you call for help 24/7. You simply push the red button on your pendant, worn around the wrist or neck, and our 24/7 Response Team will respond. For extra peace of mind, there is the Fall Detector alarm, which will call the Response Team automatically when it detects a fall.
A member of the team will assess your situation before taking the appropriate action. This usually means contacting your loved ones and informing them that you require urgent assistance. The team can also contact the emergency services when required.
Asthma occurs when the body’s airways are sensitive to allergens and become inflamed. This inflammation can cause a painful and frightening asthma attack, which causes the airway muscles to tighten and narrow, making it hard to breathe. Most people can manage their asthma very effectively with proper medication. However, asthma left unchecked can be fatal. On average, 3 people die every day from an asthma attack in the UK.
Symptoms of asthma include:
- A tight sensation in the chest
Older people are susceptible to asthma and should be on the lookout for symptoms, especially during the winter months. Asthma can worsen during and after a bout of cold or flu.
Having a Personal Alarm could make a crucial difference if you suffer from an asthma attack. You can press your pendant button, which will instantly raise an alert with our Response Team. They will communicate with you over the loudspeaker and arrange for help immediately. Should you collapse or fall while wearing a Fall Detector, your device will send an alert call automatically.
Around two million people are living with sight loss here in the UK, with 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted.
The leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects more than 600,000 people in the UK. AMD occurs when deposits build up on the macula (a small area at the centre of the retina). AMD can also be caused by abnormal blood vessels developing under the macula.
Other medical conditions can cause sight loss too – such as glaucoma and diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy damages the retina, leading to sight loss. Treatments for sight loss vary depending on the cause, but may include:
- Cataract surgery
- Eye drops
- Laser surgery
Early diagnosis of potential blindness is vital, so please seek medical attention if you notice any change to your vision. Of course, we should all have regular eye tests to ensure that our eyesight is healthy. The NHS recommends that people have an eye test every two years at the very least.
Sight loss can be very challenging to deal with. Luckily, there are several excellent support groups out there that can help – such as the RNIB.
Cancer is a disease where cells in the body replicate abnormally and form a mass known as a tumour. These abnormal cells multiply, either causing the tumour to grow or the cancerous cells to spread through the bloodstream.
Here are some common cancer symptoms to look out for:
- Finding an unexpected lump
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained blood in the stool, urine, when coughing, or when vomiting
Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer. If you are a smoker, there is no time like the present to quit smoking.
Thanks to medical research, cancer survival rates have been steadily improving for decades. Sadly, the survival rate is generally lower for older people. Therefore, it’s very important to catch symptoms early and begin treatment as soon as possible. Please take a look at our guide to coping with cancer, an article we hope will help those affected by this condition.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition that affects the lungs and airways. It’s one of several lung conditions which come under the umbrella of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Most cases of bronchitis develop as a result of an infection that irritates the bronchi (airways), causing an overproduction of mucus. The body tries to shift this excess mucus via coughing. Chronic bronchitis is when this coughing continues daily for several months of the year, for two years or more.
Look out for the common symptoms of chronic bronchitis, which include:
- Hacking cough, which may bring up mucus
- A sore throat
- A runny or blocked nose
- Aches and pains in your chest
Smoking makes you more likely to develop chronic bronchitis and other COPD conditions. Therefore, the most important thing to do if diagnosed with chronic bronchitis is to quit smoking. Cigarettes will only make the condition worse and it will take longer to disappear. Alongside this, you should also ensure that you’re eating a healthy diet to help prevent lung infections in the first place.
If you have chronic bronchitis, you should make sure that you get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and treat any headaches or fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen – but don’t use the latter if you have asthma.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is quite common among older people here in the UK. There are several other medical conditions that affect the kidneys and can lead to chronic kidney disease. These conditions include kidney infections, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney inflammation.
According to Kidney Care UK, around 64,000 people in the UK are receiving treatment for kidney failure – this is stage 5 chronic kidney disease, where kidney function is less than 15%.
Chronic Kidney Disease Symptoms
Unfortunately, symptoms for the early stages of CKD are quite rare. In most cases, the condition is diagnosed during a blood or urine test for other medical conditions. As the condition progresses, you may suffer from:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick
- Blood in your urine
- Swollen ankles, feet or hands
If you suffer from any of the symptoms above or notice any other worrying changes to your body, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
There is no cure for CKD right now, but there are treatments which can relieve the symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening. Options include medication, living a healthy lifestyle, dialysis or a kidney transplant in severe cases.
Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death here in the UK. According to the NHS, coronary heart disease (CHD) is what happens when fatty substances build up in the arteries, blocking the blood supply to the heart.
Certain lifestyle choices and other medical conditions can cause CHD. Risk factors include:
If you are at risk of CHD, your doctor might carry out an assessment. This could involve a treadmill test and one or more different scans. They’ll also ask you questions about your family history and lifestyle. The main symptoms of coronary heart disease are angina, heart attacks and heart failure.
In order to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, you might need to make important lifestyle changes. For example, everyone should take part in regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. Those who smoke should stop smoking as soon as possible. There are also several types of medication or surgery options to help treat CHD.
The knock-on effects of CHD can appear out of nowhere and can be fatal. If you have a Personal Alarm, you can raise the alarm as soon as you feel any chest pain, and help will be on its way within seconds. Remember, a Fall Detector Pendant will detect a sudden fall and automatically raise an alarm for you. Having this technology can make a huge difference should you suffer from a heart attack.
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in your deep veins, most commonly in one of your legs. This medical condition is most common in people over the age of 40, and can also lead to further complications, including pulmonary embolism.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of DVT. These include obesity, blood vessel damage, being inactive for long periods of time, and a family history of blood clots.
In addition, smoking can cause serious damage to blood vessels. To lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis and several other medical conditions, you should seriously consider quitting.
Here are the most common symptoms of deep vein thrombosis:
- Pain, swelling and tenderness in one of your legs
- A heavy ache in the affected area
- Red skin – particularly at the back of your leg, below the knee
- Warm skin in the area of the clot
- A mild fever
One common treatment involves blood-thinning medication, which makes it harder for the blood to clot and prevents existing clots from increasing in size. Alongside your medication, you will also need to make some lifestyle changes.
Dementia is a progressive disorder that affects memory and overall brain function. It is relatively common in older people, affecting around 1 in 14 people over 65. This increases to 1 in 6 people over the age of 80.
Symptoms of dementia include:
- Difficulty remembering recent events.
- Problems in conversation – struggling to follow along or to find the right words.
- Difficulty judging distance.
- Forgetting where you are or what date it is.
Nearly one million people in the UK live with dementia, 90% of whom are 65 or over. If you notice any of the symptoms above, you should visit your GP as soon as possible, especially if you are over 65. An early diagnosis will help you get the best results from treatment while giving you more time to prepare for the future.
The symptoms of dementia can be frightening for you and your loved ones alike. Personal Alarms can offer peace of mind. If you ever get disoriented or become confused about your surroundings, you’ll be able to press your pendant for help. Our expert Response Team are trained to provide reassurance and take action quickly.
Older people are susceptible to developing diabetes. In fact, half of all people with diabetes in the UK are over 65. Diabetes is a lifelong condition, which occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin. This could be because the pancreas isn’t producing enough, or because the body is resistant to the insulin it produces. Diabetes affects an astonishing 3.9 million people here in the United Kingdom.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks the cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly. This is the more common type of diabetes – affecting around 90% of diabetics.
Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem among older people, and a large proportion of newly diagnosed diabetics are from the older generation. In fact, one in 10 people over 40 are now living with this medical condition.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
To help prevent type 2 diabetes, the NHS encourages the following lifestyle changes:
- Healthy eating – Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet and reducing sugar and fat intake
- Maintaining a healthy weight – If you are carrying excess weight, lose it gradually by eating healthily and exercising frequently
- Exercising regularly – It is important to stay active; perform both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that can cause seizures. Did you know epilepsy is most common in those at opposite ends of the age spectrum? It is most prevalent in young children and people aged over 65. In fact, 25% of people with epilepsy are over 65. Every day, 87 people are diagnosed with the condition.
Epilepsy can be caused by head injuries, strokes, tumours, or certain infections. You’ll normally receive a diagnosis if you’ve had two or more seizures. This is because many people have a one-off epileptic seizure during their lifetime.
There are several medications that can help to control epilepsy. In fact, these medications help eight out of every 10 people with epilepsy to control their seizures. If you have epilepsy, you should follow these steps to manage your condition:
- Stay Healthy – Take part in regular exercise and eat a balanced diet
- Sleep – Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep
- Avoid Alcohol – Avoid excessive drinking
Please remember that if you have a seizure and you currently hold a driving licence, you have a legal responsibility to inform the Driving and Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA).
A Fall Detector could be particularly useful to sufferers of epilepsy and similar medical conditions. This device will automatically raise an alert if it detects a fall. Our Response Team will then arrange help immediately.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is created by your liver and is also found in some foods. Lipoproteins in the blood carry cholesterol around the body. There are two types of lipoproteins: low density and high density. You might have heard of "good" and "bad" cholesterol – "good" refers to high-density lipoproteins while "bad" refers to low-density lipoproteins.
High cholesterol is a medical condition that occurs when there is too much "bad" cholesterol in the body. A number of lifestyle choices and medical conditions can lead to high cholesterol. These include:
- An unhealthy diet
- High blood pressure
- A family history of stroke or heart disease
Age can also increase your chances of having high cholesterol, as the risk of your arteries narrowing is much higher. The best way to lower high cholesterol or prevent it in the first place is by living as healthily as possible.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common medical conditions in the UK. According to the NHS, more than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure. However, many people won’t even realise it. The only way to find out is by having your blood pressure checked. Therefore, it’s very important to have regular check-ups with your GP, especially if you are in a high-risk group.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Noticeable symptoms of hypertension are rare. In fact, the only time someone will notice symptoms of hypertension is when their blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as a hypertensive crisis. Symptoms of hypertensive crisis include severe headaches and anxiety, chest pain and an irregular heartbeat.
Hypertension puts significant strain on the blood vessels, heart, and other vital organs like the kidneys. As a result, people with high blood pressure are at higher risk of the following medical conditions:
- Heart Disease
- Heart Attacks
- Kidney Disease
- Vascular Dementia
- Heart Failure
Here are some ways to prevent and manage high blood pressure:
- Watching your diet – Avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar. Replace them with fruits and vegetables
- Leading an active lifestyle – Begin adding more exercise to your day. Start by walking regularly and then move onto jogging if you can
- Stop smoking – Nicotine raises your blood pressure and heart rate. If you smoke, quitting is the best decision you can make for your health
The NHS recommends that all adults over 40 get their blood pressure checked at least every five years.
With a Personal Alarm, if you have chest pains or feel unwell, you can raise an instant alert by pressing your red button. Our Response Team will contact your loved ones and/or the ambulance service to come and assist you.
Motor neurone disease is a rare neurological condition where the nervous system degenerates over time. It leads to muscle weakness and loss of mobility. Motor neurone disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), occurs when the motor neurons that control activities like walking and speaking stop working.
- Difficulty swallowing (and sometimes excessive salivation)
- A weakened grip, usually in one hand at first
- Small twitches and flickers of movement, known as fasciculations
- Difficulty speaking or slurred speech, known as dysarthria
The causes of motor neurone disease are still unknown. However, we do know that it affects more men than women and that it occurs most often in people between the ages of 50 and 70. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for MND, but several treatments can minimise symptoms and slow the condition’s progress. Despite being one of the rarer medical conditions on this list, it’s relatively well-known, thanks to high-profile MND patients such as Stephen Hawking.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. The main symptoms are a wide range of problems with vision, movement and balance.
There are currently more than 100,000 people in the UK living with the condition. The MS Society estimates that 5,000 more people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis each year. That’s approximately 14 people every day. This means that around one in every 600 people currently has multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
Symptoms of MS include:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle stiffness
- Balance problems
- Difficulty walking
Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, although research into possible cures is ongoing. In the meantime, there are a number of treatments that can help to control the condition. Treatment options will depend on the individual’s symptoms among other factors.
A personal alarm system can be a great reassurance for people with multiple sclerosis and their families. If you need help in an emergency, you need only press your Lifeline Alarm button. Our 24/7 Response Team will send help quickly, giving you the confidence you need to keep living independently.
Osteoporosis is one of the most common medical conditions affecting older people. More than three million people across the UK have osteoporosis, with more than 500,000 people receiving hospital treatment for fragility fractures every year as a result. This condition develops slowly over time and is often left undiagnosed until a fall causes a bone fracture.
This is because osteoporosis weakens the bones. Losing bone mass is a natural part of the ageing process, however, some people lose density faster than normal.
Women are more likely to have osteoporosis because they lose bone density rapidly after going through menopause. Luckily, certain medications can help to strengthen the bones. Many people also take calcium and vitamin D supplements to maintain bone health.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, certain exercises can help combat the condition:
- Weight-bearing exercises – Activities that involve moving against gravity whilst staying upright. High-impact examples like skipping and tennis help to build bones and keep them strong. Low-impact examples such as using a stair machine or treadmill are safer alternatives for those who already have bone problems
- Muscle-strengthening exercises – Activities that involve moving the body, weights or other forms of resistance against gravity. Examples include lifting weights and using elastic exercise bands
Osteoporosis and Falls
Falls are quite common among people with medical conditions like osteoporosis. Should you suffer from a fall, you may be unable to get back up or reach for your phone to call for assistance. Having a pendant button around your wrist or neck allows you to get help quickly after a fall. For added security, we would suggest the fall detector plan. This advanced device activates your alarm when it detects a fall.
Paget’s disease of bone disrupts the normal cycle of bone renewal. It’s triggered by a flaw in the bone cell regeneration system, which causes bone weakness and even bone deformity.
Paget’s disease is a common bone condition that usually affects the pelvis, spine, and other areas of the body. It is a very common condition in the UK, mostly affecting people over the age of 50. The condition affects 8% of men and 5% of women by the age of 80.
Paget's Disease Symptoms
Symptoms include the following:
- Constant, dull bone pain
- Shooting pain that travels along the body
- Numbness and tingling
- Loss of movement in a part of the body
These symptoms of Paget’s disease can trigger a fall, which can be very dangerous if there is nobody around to help you. Having a Personal Alarm can help people who suffer from Paget’s disease and other medical conditions. Simply press the red button on your pendant to call for assistance. Our Response Team will answer the call, assess your situation and arrange for help to come to you as quickly as possible.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive condition that damages certain parts of the brain. According to the NHS website, there are around 130,000 people in the UK living with Parkinson’s disease. That’s 1 in every 500 people.
The main cause of Parkinson’s is a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in dopamine, an important chemical in the brain. The condition is most common in middle-aged and elderly people.
Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
The most common symptoms to look out for are:
- Involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor)
- Slow movement
- Stiff and inflexible muscles
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are treatments available that can reduce the symptoms and help those affected to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.
Having a stroke can be life-threatening if you don’t seek medical attention straight away. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of your brain is cut off. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged and may even die.
Strokes are particularly common among older people. The average age for suffering a stroke is 74 for men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For women, however, the average age is slightly higher: 80. Across the UK, strokes are a leading cause of disability, with around two thirds of all survivors being left with a disability of some kind.
Symptoms of Stroke
It’s very important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke. The sooner you get treatment, the better the outcome is likely to be. As mentioned, strokes can be life-threatening, so it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Memorise the signs of a stroke with the word FAST:
- Face – Has their face drooped or fallen on one side? Can they smile?
- Arms – Can the person raise both arms and hold them there?
- Speech – Are they speaking clearly? Or is their speech slurred or garbled?
- Time – Don’t waste any time! Dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms
It’s absolutely vital to call 999 if you notice any signs of a stroke. Wearing an alarm pendant ensures that you can call for help even if there's no one around or you’re unable to reach for the phone. Our Response Team will take care of everything, by calling the emergency services and notifying your loved ones. They’ll also be able to inform the paramedics of any other medical conditions you have, as well as any allergies and medications you take.
Shingles is a skin condition that is very common among older people, especially those over the age of 70. This is because your body’s immune system becomes weaker as you age.
Shingles is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox. Therefore, only those who have had chickenpox can develop shingles. The infection will usually cause a painful rash and/or blisters to form on your skin, which may become extremely itchy.
If you have shingles, the affected area will feel quite tender and you may experience sharp stabbing pains every now and then. Other symptoms include a burning and tingling feeling in the affected areas, as well as a high temperature and a general feeling of being unwell.
The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner treatment can begin. The NHS suggests using calamine lotion as this has a cooling, soothing effect on the skin and can relieve the itchy feeling. If your blisters are weeping, you can use a cloth or flannel which has been cooled with tap water to relieve discomfort.
People aged 70-78 are eligible for a free shingles vaccination with the NHS. This is the best way of avoiding the condition.
Staying Safe at Home
A personal alarm can protect people who suffer from medical conditions like those mentioned in this article. If one of our alarm users feels unwell or suffers a fall, they can press their pendant button and our Response Team will arrange help immediately.
For more information on our life-saving personal alarms, send an email to email@example.com or speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our handy contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on 18th May 2022 to reflect current information.
Chronic kidney disease is a long-term medical condition that affects around 1 in 8 people. It means that your kidneys don't function exactly as they should. Cases can range from very mild, where you can usually manage your symptoms with your GP, to severe, where hospital treatment is necessary.
Today, we're taking a closer look at chronic kidney disease, including the causes, symptoms, and stages of the condition. We'll also explore the different treatments that are available.
What is Chronic Kidney Disease?
Chronic kidney disease is a common medical condition affecting lots of older people. According to Kidney Care UK, around 50% of people over 75 have some degree of kidney disease. People of African and Asian origin are more likely to develop the condition at a younger age.
The kidneys play a very important role in the body. They filter the blood, removing toxins from the bloodstream and converting the waste into urine. They also produce some important hormones which regulate blood pressure and the production of vital red blood cells. Therefore, poor kidney function can lead to high blood pressure and anaemia, as well as other complications.
"Right now, around 63,000 people in the UK are being treated for kidney failure (also known as stage 5 CKD, where kidney function is less than 15%)."
At its most severe, chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure (when kidney function is 15% or less). This means the kidneys can no longer function well enough to keep us alive and hospital treatment is needed. The NHS estimates that there are up to 45,000 premature deaths related to chronic kidney disease every year.
Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease
In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, there usually aren't any symptoms. In fact, it may only be picked up if blood or urine tests detect a possible problem with your kidneys.
As CKD progresses, symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick
- Blood in your urine
- Swollen ankles, feet or hands
- Muscle cramps
The most advanced stage of chronic kidney disease is known as kidney failure, end-stage renal disease, or established renal failure. If you suffer from any of the symptoms above or notice any other worrying changes to your body, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Disease
As previously mentioned, chronic kidney disease can be diagnosed with blood and urine tests. Since symptoms are so rare in the early stages, it is commonly discovered during routine check-ups. Those who may be at a higher risk should have tests on a regular basis. High-risk groups include people with high blood pressure or diabetes, older people, and people of African or Asian origin. If you have a family history of kidney disease, you should also have regular check-ups.
A blood test will measure the levels of a waste product known as creatinine in your blood. According to the NHS:
"Using this result, a calculation that takes into account your age, gender and ethnic group is then done to work out how many millilitres of waste your kidneys are able to filter in a minute. This measurement is known as your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR)."
Healthy kidneys should be able to filter more than 90ml per minute. Any lower and you may have kidney disease.
Urine tests will check the level of creatinine and albumin in your urine, which is known as the albumin:creatinine ratio, or ACR. This test also checks for any blood or protein in your urine, and can also give an accurate picture of how well your kidneys are working.
Other tests that can assess the level of damage to your kidneys include:
- Ultrasound Scan
- MRI Scan
- CT Scan
These tests will be able to provide an image of what your kidneys look like and whether there are any blockages. A kidney biopsy may also be helpful. This is where a small sample of kidney tissue is removed and examined.
Stages of Chronic Kidney Disease
Your test results can determine how damaged your kidneys are and will therefore show which stage of the condition you are at. Your doctor will then be able to advise you about the best course of treatment and how often you should have tests to monitor your condition.
Chronic kidney disease has five stages. Your stage essentially depends on how much blood your kidneys can filter per minute. The normal rate is around 100ml per minute. At stage 1, it will be 90ml per minute or more but with other signs of damage to the kidneys. At stage 5, the most severe, the rate is less than 15ml per minute.
Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease
In most cases, chronic kidney disease is caused by other medical conditions which put a strain on the kidneys. These conditions include:
- Kidney infections
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Kidney inflammation
- Blockages in the flow of urine
- Long-term use of medicines such as lithium and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs
Although there is no cure for CKD, there are several treatments that can help relieve the symptoms and prevent it from getting any worse. The treatment available will depend on how severe your condition is.
The four main forms of treatment are:
- Medication - To control associated problems such as hypertension and high cholesterol.
- Lifestyle changes - To ensure that your body remains as healthy as possible.
- Dialysis - Replicates some of the kidney's functions, which may be necessary if your condition is at an advanced stage.
- Kidney transplant - May be needed if your condition is at an advanced stage.
In order to remain as healthy as possible, it's important to stop smoking, eat a healthy diet and take part in regular exercise. You will also need to restrict your salt intake to less than 6g per day and moderate your alcohol intake so that it follows the recommended guidelines of no more than 14 units per week.
Should you reach the stage where your kidneys stop working completely, you may need to have dialysis. There are two kinds of dialysis. The more common option (haemodialysis) involves diverting the blood to a machine that filters it, just as the kidneys normally would, before returning it to the body. Another form of dialysis (peritoneal dialysis) uses the peritoneal cavity (a space in your abdomen, containing lots of tiny blood vessels) as a filtering device, instead of a machine.
You may be able to choose which kind of dialysis you'd like to have. Haemodialysis usually happens three times a week in a treatment centre or more often at home. Peritoneal dialysis, on the other hand, needs to happen every day, but can sometimes be done overnight while you sleep.
Dialysis will usually be a lifelong form of treatment unless you have a kidney transplant.
For those with little or no kidney function, a kidney transplant is the most effective treatment for CKD. This is a major surgical procedure, which normally takes around three hours. After a transplant, you'll usually need to take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of your life. This is to prevent your immune system from attacking the new kidney.
You can live with one kidney, which means people can choose to donate a kidney to someone else who needs one. Ideally, the donor should be a close relative in order to reduce the chances of the body rejecting the kidney. Kidney donations from people who have recently died are also possible, although they have a slightly lower success rate in the long term. Survival rates for kidney transplants are extremely good nowadays. About 90% of transplants still function after five years and many work after 10 years or more. However, there is still a shortage of donors, with patients often waiting years for a transplant. As of August 2021, there are currently 3,537 people waiting for a kidney transplant.
Organ donation law in England and Wales has recently changed to an opt-out system. This means that all adults in England and Wales will be considered potential donors unless they opt-out or belong to an excluded group. You can still choose whether or not to donate your organs by registering a decision. Your family will also be asked to give their support.
You can register your decision to donate (or opt-out of donating) your organs after you die on the NHS Organ Donation website. If you've already recorded a decision, you are free to change your mind at any time. You may also choose to donate some but not all of your organs.
Living with Chronic Kidney Disease
Most people are able to carry on living their normal life with chronic kidney disease. The majority of cases just require medication and regular check-ups. Of course, it's even more important for those with kidney disease to try and stay as healthy as possible. Chronic kidney disease increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of death in CKD patients.
It's also wise to have the annual flu jab and the one-off pneumococcal vaccination, as your body will be more vulnerable to infections. If you are undergoing dialysis or you have stage 5 kidney disease, you are also advised to get the COVID-19 vaccination. If you've already had both doses, you may be eligible for a third booster jab.
Remember, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to working practices or premises to help a person with a disability. This could involve flexible working hours to fit with dialysis appointments, for example. If you have to stop working or cut down on the number of hours you work, you may be entitled to some financial benefits.
Chronic kidney disease is a condition that qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. This means that people with chronic kidney disease will not have to pay any VAT whatsoever on their Lifeline24 alarm system. To find out about other medical conditions that qualify you for VAT exemption, click here.
Personal Alarm Information
The Lifeline24 personal alarm service is ideal for people with long-term medical conditions like chronic kidney disease. Having a personal alarm allows you to carry on living independently at home with total peace of mind. If you ever need to call for help in an emergency, all you need to do is press your pendant button. Our 24/7 Response Team will answer the call and send assistance to your home straight away. For more information about our life-saving personal alarm service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, get in touch online and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 16th May 2022 to reflect current information.