Living with multiple health problems

When treatments only go so far

Some of the people we interviewed described limitations of treatments, such as those that did not work, only worked for so long (see ‘Different views on prescribed medicines’), or could not be used due to existing conditions and/or prescribed medicines. John was one of the people who said that the drugs he had taken had not made any difference, in his case pain relief for a back problem. He also described how there is sometimes nothing more that can be done following previous operations. John also mentions how the relief of pain after an operation (in his case on his spine), can be short lived. Kevin already had a metal plate screwed into his hip which made further surgery potentially too complicated. Jean had been told that she could not have heart surgery as she would not be able to cope with a general anaesthetic.
Unwanted side effects from medicines could also limit the use of treatments. For instance, Pat’s inability to tolerate any drug treatments for high cholesterol meant she had to control it through diet. Tammy found that a recommended treatment for one condition led to an increase in seizures with her epilepsy. Ronald believed that his kidney function had been affected as a result of medicines taken for diabetes. (See also ‘Interaction between different symptoms, conditions and medicines’). The issue of risks and harms for people living with multiple health conditions is covered in detail in a separate topic. However, at the same time as Ronald talked about the limits of treatment, he also pointed to an occasion when his GP was able to perform minor surgery on him at the local surgery.
As mentioned elsewhere, diabetes was seen as one condition that is particularly complicated for people with multiple health problems. David and others explained that because of the progressive nature of diabetes, each medicine may be effective only for a certain period of time, after which different medicines would replace them in turn. Similar issues were raised by the people we spoke to with epilepsy, where drugs were sometimes only effective for limited periods of time. Others referred to limits of treatment caused by how the health system worked. Sue contrasted the rehabilitation she received in hospital following a stroke with a lack of rehabilitation in the community. Eric was frustrated that a more radical treatment was not available to help with his symptoms of needing to urinate all the time. Steve was focused more on the limits of social care and personal, practical or psychological support following diagnosis with a rare condition affecting the pituitary gland.

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