How to help people with a chronic illness get through the holiday season

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- For many people, Christmas is all about being with family, good food, and exchanging gifts. We often joke that the holidays can be suffocating, but for those living with chronic illness, this time of year adds even more stress to a life already choked from anxiety.

One of those illnesses is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

It's where your lungs scar over time, meaning less oxygen to the blood and a holiday season that can become truly suffocating because your brain and other organs don't get the oxygen they need.

The cause is unknown and survival time from diagnosis is usually three to five years.

The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, persistent dry hacking cough, and a velcro-like sound in the lungs. All of this is usually found in older adults.

Dr. Reda Girgis, the medical director of Spectrum Health's lung transplant program, suggests that if you suffer with a chronic disease, ask for help in advance during the holiday season.

"Any individual with a chronic disease can feel isolated and not be able to participate in all of these activities," Dr. Girgis said, "so it's important for family and other loved ones to provide the support."

When you're at a party and standing tires you out, don't be afraid to ask for a chair. Don't feel bad if you can't participate in certain activities or eat certain foods.

Keep in mind that there are symptoms of chronic disease that get worse from overeating, failing to get enough exercise, and staying up late.

Dr. Girgis says the most important thing for those suffering with chronic illness is receive family support.

"Provide as much support as possible. Be understanding of what their capabilities are, what their symptoms are, but provide continued encouragement for anyone with chronic illness, particularly chronic lung and heart problems. People get symptoms from their day-to-day activities, but they should be encouraged to do as much as they can. It's important they stay as active as possible."

As you gather together with family and friends this holiday season, keep those suffering with a chronic disease in mind.

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