Lifelong Care: How FNPs Help Patients Maintain Healthy Lifestyles

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An apple a day, as the saying goes, keeps the doctor away. Most people, though, need more than Galas and Granny Smiths to enjoy a healthy life. In addition to treatment for acute conditions, people also can benefit from ongoing care as well as the latest information about diet, exercise, and stress relief.

Nurse reviewing chart with patient

Providing this additional education to patients in the form of holistic care is one of the many responsibilities of Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs). The FNP specialty is one of three certificates offered in Duquesne University’s online post-Master’s certificate program. The program gives registered nurses with Master’s of Science in Nursing degrees the opportunity to advance in their careers and play a role in providing healthcare and health education to patients across the lifespan, from newborns to senior citizens.

Common Preventive Health Education Topics

FNPs coordinate and provide patient care, but also focus heavily on education. They are like nurse educators in that they provide knowledge, but they work with patients and the public rather than new nurses. Because FNPs often see the same people on a regular basis, they frequently develop a relationship, providing advice and support to patients and their families.

In the case of chronic conditions, FNPs are typically responsible for showing patients how to manage them. Some of the most common issues are obesity, Type 1 and Type 2 two diabetes, and stress-related health problems such as high blood pressure.

Battling Obesity

Obesity is a significant health issue in the United States. Obesity rates top 20 percent in all states, according to recent national data. In more than 30 states, 30 percent or more of the adult population is considered obese.

FNPs assist patients with obesity by educating them about healthy diet and exercise and setting realistic goals for improvement.

The first step FNPs take is informing patients about inherent risks of obesity, which include increased chances of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers (especially breast, colon and kidney cancers), osteoarthritis and back problems, respiratory and sleep disorders, and even infertility.

Next comes formulating a plan for healthier eating habits. Most FNPs will recommend reducing fats and increasing complex carbohydrates to effect a reduction in energy intake. They also suggest switching away from sugar-rich soft drinks and alcoholic beverages to either drinks with artificial sweeteners, or preferably, water.

While dietary changes paired with strict portion control can bring about modest weight loss, exercise is also vastly important. Regular daily activity is a crucial factor in weight loss, but activity can be particularly challenging for patients who are unable to stand or even leave their chairs. In such cases, FNPs will often start by assessing their patient’s habits and suggest ways to gradually increase their activity level. They may give patients pedometers so they can track their daily progress. In states where FNPs have prescribing rights, they may prescribe weight-loss medication.

FNPs also provide care for obese or overweight children. For young patients, FNPs often suggest increasing physical activity to a mandatory minimum of thirty minutes per day, changing sedentary habits such as watching TV and playing video games, and adopting healthier eating behaviors.

FNPs aren’t limited to fighting obesity in the doctor’s office. They also frequently speak at schools and other institutions about ways to start or maintain healthy habits.

Diabetes Care

Although they share a name, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are distinct conditions that are treated in different ways.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes a patient’s white blood cells to attack and destroy their own beta cells, which are produced by the pancreas and are necessary for the body to process carbohydrates and sugar, eventually causing the pancreas to stop producing insulin. It is commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes because of its prevalence among younger patients, and its root cause is unknown.

Because their pancreas is no longer functioning, patients with Type 1 diabetes are completely insulin dependent. FNPs, in tandem with the patient’s endocrinologists, prescribe regular insulin injections via insulin syringes, pens, or pumps. Type 1 diabetics are also given meters to monitor their blood glucose, an essential and mandatory practice if they are to stay healthy.

Outside the office, FNPs can work with organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to spread public awareness about diabetes and raise funds for research.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose levels and the body’s inability to efficiently use insulin (known as insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes may stem from the patient’s lifestyle. It is by far the most prevalent type of diabetes; about ninety percent of diabetes patients have Type 2.

Because most patients with Type 2 diabetes are also overweight, FNPs usually provide the same procedures and education that they would for obese patients. In addition, FNPs also teach patients about blood glucose levels and the negative effects that excess glucose can have on the body.

To help keep patients’ blood glucose at acceptable levels, FNPs may prescribe either oral insulin such as Metformin or insulin injections to be taken as needed. They also provide meters so patients can regularly test their blood glucose levels.

With the proper care, Type 2 diabetes can be successfully managed and even reversed.

Promoting Stress Relief

One extremely common health issue about which FNPs regularly advise their patients is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is caused by a variety of factors, but high levels of stress are a major contributor.

FNPs explain to their patients that high blood pressure can increase their chances of dying from a stroke or heart disease. FNPs also urge them to take their prescribed medication regularly, work to maintain a healthy weight, and form heart-healthy eating habits with a focus on low-sodium foods. FNPs also urge patients who smoke to quit and can offer help, including medications or quit-smoking groups, if necessary.

For stress relief, FNPs can offer their patients a wide range of options. Some of the more popular activities include writing in a journal to pinpoint the sources of their stress, meditation, openly sharing their feelings with loved ones, and adopting a relaxing hobby such as gardening, creative writing, crafts, or art. FNPs may also recommend that patients do something that they enjoy, such as playing with a pet or volunteering for a local organization.

About Duquesne University’s Online Post-Master’s Certificate Program

The Duquesne University School of Nursing is top ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. The program offers three areas of specialization: Forensic Nursing, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role.  For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online Post-Master’s Certificate program website.