A recent study found that 44% of people born between 1981 and 1996 — known as the millennial generation — have a chronic health condition. Unlike acute health problems, which are short-term, chronic health conditions and symptoms last for more than several months and need to be managed over time.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Saima Lodhi, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest, about the top five chronic health conditions affecting millennials and how to care for them.
Headaches are the most common chronic health issue reported by millennials. Many headaches are migraines, a very specific type of headache that causes intense pain or throbbing and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and visual disturbances called auras.
Headaches can also be due to sinus pain or by hormonal fluctuations, such as those that happen during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Chronic neck or shoulder tightness or eyestrain, sometimes related to hours spent on a computer or other device, may contribute to frequent or lasting headaches.
“Depression is much more often identified now amongst millennials, as they have many different types of stressors that they have to manage,” says Dr. Lodhi. “And, we’re really trying to destigmatize depression and make it okay to talk about it.”
As a result, depression is reported more openly now, even though it may have been present just as much in older generations.
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs. Asthma attacks can range from mild to severe and may cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. Asthma and allergies are closely related, and environmental factors can trigger both, as can smoking and vaping.
Type 2 diabetes goes hand-in-hand with obesity, and obesity is a significant problem among millennials. There is a strong genetic factor in type 2 diabetes as well.
“If you have a family history of diabetes, that may predispose you to this very common condition,” explains Dr. Lodhi. “We are diagnosing diabetes all the time, even in younger people.”
Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure, is a chronic condition that can raise the risk of stroke or heart attack. While it was previously seen mostly in older patients, hypertension is now often diagnosed in millennials.
Moreover, it’s not unusual for someone to have two or more of these conditions. For example, someone who is depressed may have frequent headaches. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure often occur together, especially if obesity is a factor.
Without treatment, any of these conditions can have severe consequences; some may lead to hospitalization or even be life-threatening. Fortunately, in most cases, your primary care physician can help you treat or manage them.
Your physician can help you identify triggers for your condition, such as weather changes for migraine headaches, and determine if you could benefit from medication or other treatments. If necessary, they can refer you to a specialist, such as a cardiologist or endocrinologist.
“These are all discussions to have with your primary care physician to come up with a customized plan to manage your own health. It can vary from person to person, even for the same diagnosis,” says Dr. Lodhi. “Millennials are very tech savvy, and in a lot of cases, you can treat these conditions without actually going into the doctor's office. Video visits can be very useful for these.”
Video visits also tend to cost less and be more convenient for busy millennials than in-person visits and are easily scheduled online.
How can millennials help prevent these chronic conditions? Dr. Lodhi says many lifestyle factors play a role. Maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a diet low in saturated fat and sodium and high in fiber, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly can help prevent type 2 diabetes, hypertension, depression and headaches.
“Be aware of what your body is trying to tell you and have a conversation with your primary care physician,” says Dr. Lodhi.