Skip to main content

Blogs

Get health care guidance and support with our blog library. You'll find tools, tips, and information to help you reach your health goals.

Our most recent blogs

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

It’s been a long pandemic! Now that things are opening and we are all venturing outside for summer fun, it’s important to keep a few safety tips in mind. Summer safety guidelines don’t have to be a long list of things to avoid. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, let's consider a few changes to our routines to increase safety and fun for the entire family.

Family gatherings: Food is the one thing that we can count on to be part of most summer activities and get-togethers. Cook your fresh foods the same day you buy them. This will limit the amount of time bacteria has to grow. Bacteria in food are the main cause of food poisoning. This season, remember the four food safety steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Summer also offers the best time to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is at its highest nutrient content in the summer months. Fruit is high in water content and eating it can also be a great way to stay hydrated while playing in the sun.

Speaking of hydration: Drinking right is also an important summer safety tip. Remember that we lose fluids when we sweat. And we typically sweat more during the summer months. Keep water ready and available to drink often and as needed, especially outdoors. Avoid too much caffeine from coffee, black tea, and colas.

Don’t forget to pack the sunscreen: Wearing sunscreen daily not only reduces the risk of skin cancer and sunburns, but it also helps to prevent the early onset of wrinkles. The higher the SPF, the better. You’re welcome!

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois is sponsoring a ton of summer events encourage summer safety and fun. Download the Aetna app to find more tips and details on events taking place in your area.

 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Did you know that having a dedicated primary care provider (PCP) can help keep you healthy? A PCP helps manage your routine care like physicals and preventive care, and they can help treat common medical issues. Also, they can educate you on healthy lifestyle choices and make referrals to specialists when needed.

At Aetna Better Health® of Illinois, we designed our website with our members in mind. With a few clicks you can find a PCP to help you live a healthy life.

Here's a list of PCP types to help you decide what you and your family need:

  • Family medicine physicians, also known as family doctors, see patients of all ages – sometimes everyone in a family
  • Pediatricians care for children and teenagers
  • Internists, or internal medicine doctors, see only adults
  • Geriatricians care for older people (age 65+)
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists focus on women’s health and pregnancy
  • Nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide primary care as part of a team that includes a physician

No matter which type of PCP you see, remember to bring your important documents to every visit. This includes your member ID card, a valid photo ID, medical history and a list of your medications. 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Influenza — also known as flu — is caused by a virus that easily spreads from one person to another. Flu can cause severe illness for some people and can even lead to hospitalization or death. Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills

The best way to protect yourself and others from getting very sick from flu is to get a flu shot. Flu shots are recommended every year for people age 6 months and older, unless their doctor tells them otherwise. 

How does the flu vaccine work?

Health experts make a vaccine to match the types of flu virus that are expected to be most common during the next flu season. The flu vaccine has an inactive virus and can’t give you the flu. But it does cause your body to create antibodies that can protect you from getting very sick or spreading the flu to others. It takes about two weeks after a flu shot to be fully protected.

Flu is most common during the fall and winter months in the United States. Most health experts suggest getting your flu shot by the end of October for protection during the months that activity is the highest.

Your flu shot is free

The flu shot is covered at no charge for Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members. You can get a flu shot from your primary care provider (PCP), at your local CVS Pharmacy® or MinuteClinic®. You can even save a step and schedule your flu shot at the same time as your COVID-19 vaccine or booster. 

Members age 18 and older who get a flu shot between September 15, 2022, and March 31, 2023, can receive a $15 gift card from Aetna Better Health of Illinois. A limited number of gift cards are available. Cards will be mailed to eligible members by June 30, 2023, while supplies last.

What else can you do to stay healthy during flu season?

You can help your immune system protect against illnesses such as flu. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of rest

If you have questions about getting a flu shot, talk to your PCP. 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

November is American Diabetes Month. Preventing or catching diabetes in its early stages helps you to avoid serious health complications.

Diabetes is a common health condition. According to the CDC, more than 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, and 1 in 5 don’t even know it yet. Knowing the signs and symptoms is critical, especially for people of color. Here are some important stats:

  • The CDC states Hispanic adults have a 50% chance of developing diabetes, which is 10% higher than US adults overall.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that African Americans are 60% more likely to get a diabetes diagnosis and are twice as likely to die from the disease.

Here are a few steps to help prevent diabetes:

Lose any extra pounds. Create a routine to move your body through a physical activity like walking or running. Set short-term weight loss goals. Any aerobic exercise will improve your blood circulation, lower stress, lower blood sugar and strengthen your heart.

Eat healthy. Focus on plant-based, fiber-rich food such as tomatoes and peppers. Eat whole grains, like whole wheat bread, rice and pasta. Make sure your vegetables are non-starch, like leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower. Food with fiber and nutrients will slow your sugar absorption —something that processed foods with high sugar levels won’t.

Choose unsaturated fats, like nuts and seeds, salmon and sardines. If you eat dairy and red meat, consider low-fat options, or lean chicken and pork.

Get regular checkups. See your doctor at least twice a year. Get your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, feet, and eyes checked. See your dentist to get your teeth and gums checked.

Watch for signs. Have excessive thirst? Extra weight gain? Changes in vision? Frequent urination? These are just some of the signs of diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these signs.

Managing your diabetes

Already living with diabetes? Take steps now to manage your condition. Keep eating healthily, exercising and seeing your doctor regularly. You should also do the following:

Stop smoking. Smoking will increase your risk of other health problems like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage and blood vessel narrowing

Avoid alcohol. Beer, wine and liquor contain sugar and can push your blood sugar levels up. Soda, juice and energy drinks are also loaded with processed sugar.

Manage your stress. Your blood sugar levels spike when you feel anxiety. Exercise and eating right will help. Work in other ways to manage your stress, like doing yoga, meditating, visiting a mental health counselor and/or support groups. Even gardening or reading can help to relax your body and mind.

Take your medicine. Create a routine to make sure you don’t miss a day and get refills before you run out.

Educate yourself on managing your blood sugar levels and then create a plan to prevent or control it. The time to start is today.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. When it comes to finding breast cancer, sooner is often better. Regular screenings may help to spot it as early as possible when there are more treatment options.

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast area begin growing in a way that is not normal. Sometimes the cancer can spread from the breast into nearby areas — and even to other parts of the body. Screenings can find lumps and other signs of cancer before it starts to spread.

A mammogram is a type of screening exam. This X-ray scans the breast area for any signs of cancer. Women ages 40 and older who are at an average risk for breast cancer are encouraged to get a mammogram every year. Women with a family history of breast cancer may need to start screening earlier and should check with their provider.

Breast screenings are covered at no charge by Aetna Better Health® of Illinois for eligible members. Members ages 50-74 can earn Aetna Better Care Rewards for completing their annual breast screening. Learn more about the Aetna® Better Care Rewards program.

Schedule your screening by calling your doctor’s office or Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711).

The Aetna Better Health of Illinois community outreach team hosted Pamper Me Pink events across the state during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Each event offered health screenings, education and resources for healthy living and giveaways. See our upcoming events on our calendar of events.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Cold, flu and other types of respiratory illness are common during the winter months. As the weather gets colder, it’s important to watch for signs of illness and learn how to keep from getting sick.

Some of the most common winter illnesses — and their symptoms — are listed below. Remember: symptoms won’t be the same for everyone. Always call your doctor’s office if you need testing or treatment, or if symptoms get worse.

Cold

A cold is the most common type of illness seen by doctors in the winter months. It  can be caused by a number of different viruses, including one called rhinovirus.

When you have a cold, you may cough, sneeze and get a runny nose or scratchy throat. A cold can make you feel really tired, so it’s important to get plenty of rest. Over-the-counter medicines can help your feel better until the symptoms are gone.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by a virus that is easily spread to others. The winter months could bring a rise in cases as people are indoors more. COVID-19 can cause fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headache and other symptoms.

If you think you have COVID-19, get tested and ask your doctor what medicine or other treatment you may need.

Vaccines are recommended for people ages 6 months and older to protect against serious illness from COVID-19. Boosters are also recommended to enhance the primary vaccination series. See current guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Flu

Flu is caused by a virus that easily spreads from one person to another. It spreads when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces that other people use.  

Flu can develop suddenly with fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and a headache. If you think you have the flu, your doctor can do a test and prescribe medicine to help you feel better.

The best protection against the flu is getting a flu shot every year. If you haven’t already had a flu shot, ask your doctor about getting one. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members ages 18 and older who get a flu shot between September 15, 2022, and March 31, 2023, can receive a $15 gift card. Learn more here.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious condition that affects the lungs. Some people get pneumonia from a virus, other illnesses or bacteria.

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, a deep cough, chills, shortness of breath and pain. If you’ve been sick and are getting worse, have a cough that doesn’t get better or have pain when you breathe, call your doctor right away.

RSV

RSV, which is short for respiratory syncytial virus, can have symptoms of runny nose, cough and congestion. RSV can also cause wheezing and rapid breathing. Babies and young children with RSV may be fussy or not as active as usual.

RSV can turn into a serious illness for some people, including babies, young children and those with other health conditions. Parents should call their child’s doctor if they aren’t drinking enough, having trouble breathing or if symptoms are getting worse.

Protecting against illness this winter

To stay healthy, avoid being close to people who are sick, wash hands often and avoid touching your face. Be sure to clean surfaces that are touched often, like doorknobs, phones and bathroom surfaces.

Remember that vaccines are available to protect against COVID-19, flu and some types of pneumonia. They can help you avoid getting sick or make your symptoms less severe. Ask your doctor what vaccines you may need.

If you do get sick, check with your doctor about medicines or other treatment you may need. Be sure to get plenty of rest and always call your doctor’s office if symptoms are getting worse. 

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

The “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is filled with joyous traditions, gatherings and celebrations. While this is exciting to some, it can be a source of stress to others. About 40% of adults have anxiety around the holidays. And more than 60% of people with mental illness believe the holidays make their symptoms worse. This time of year can bring high demands, increased stress and strong emotions because of unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, social isolation and grief. Here are five tips to enhance and maintain your mental health so you can have an enjoyable celebratory season.

Set boundaries. The holidays are very busy. You may feel pressure to accept invites and overextend yourself. Know your limits and don’t let guilt guide your decisions. Only say yes to things that are important to you. Remember that setting boundaries is an act of self-care and puts your needs first.  

Don't overindulge and get enough sleep. Try to keep good habits during this festive season. There are lots of food, drinks and late nights. It’s best to eat a healthy diet with little to no alcohol. A good night’s rest has several benefits like an emotional reset, boost to your immune system and lowering your overall risk for health problems. And don’t forget to exercise.

Spend less, smile more. We tend to overspend during the holidays, and this can cause financial stress. However, smiling doesn’t cost anything. In fact, smiling can improve your mood. And it has positive health benefits like lowering your blood pressure, helping you relax and relieving stress. Set and stay within a budget and track your spending with a smile. 

Make new traditions. For many, this may be the first holiday season without a loved one.   There’s no doubt the season is going to differ from the past. It’s okay if you decide to do something different. Create new traditions focused on what makes you happy, instead of what others expect of you. 

Have an attitude of gratitude. Research shows that gratitude can decrease stress and improve physical and mental health. During the holidays, we reflect on and give thanks for all our blessings. But we don’t have to wait. Gratitude can be practiced year-round! Make it part of your daily routine by writing down 1-3 things you’re grateful for. That way, when the holidays come around you have a gratitude reserve that can help during challenges. 

To help you manage your mental health and wellness during the holiday season – and year-round – Aetna Better Health® of Illinois has two apps for members:

Pyx Health® is designed to help reduce loneliness and improve health. It connects users to health plan and community resources in real time. And has tools to support mental, social and physical health needs.

Moodfit provides a set of customizable tools to help manage your mental wellness. Learn how to reduce stress, fight procrastination, relaxation techniques and more!

Learn more at AetnaBetterHealth.com/Illinois-Medicaid/Whats-Covered

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Did you know more than half of children and adolescents have had a cavity? Or that children’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they appear? To prevent common issues from turning into serious concerns, it’s important children understand why oral hygiene and healthy diets matter.                                                                                                                             

February is a time when health professionals promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers and others. But everyone can play a role in educating children on this topic.

Cavities cause pain and if left untreated, can lead to infections that may create issues with eating, speaking, playing and learning. In fact, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.

The good news is, cavities and other oral health issues can be prevented. There are ways to help set children of all ages on the path to good oral hygiene, which can turn into regular habits they’ll carry with them as they grow. Read below to learn how to help.

Babies:

  • Begin dental hygiene as soon as possible. Before teeth appear, a baby’s mouth should be cleaned twice a day (after first feeding and before bed) by wiping the gums with a clean washcloth to remove bacteria and sugar. Avoid putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk. Milk or juices can pool around teeth and cause severe decay.
  • Brush regularly. Once teeth come in, a baby’s teeth should be brushed twice a day with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and water.
  •  Check when it’s okay to use toothpaste. Talk to a dentist or pediatrician about using fluoride-based toothpaste and receiving a fluoride application on a baby’s teeth.
  • Go to the dentist. By the baby’s first birthday, they should visit with a dentist to spot any potential problems early on.

Children:

  • Brush twice a day. Encourage children to brush their teeth twice a day — in the morning and right before bed — using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Brush properly and don’t forget the tongue. Poor brushing can be just as bad as not brushing at all. Children should take their time and use gentle, circular motions as well as gently brush their tongue.
  • Don’t forget to floss. Flossing once a day is a great way to stimulate the gums and reduce plaque.
  • Consider using mouthwash. Mouthwash can help reduce acid in the mouth, clean hard-to-brush areas and strengthen the teeth. A dentist can provide specific mouthwash recommendations for children.
  • Visit the dentist regularly. Children should see the dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. The dentist can help remove plaque, look for cavities and spot for potential oral health issues. 

Caregivers:

  • Model good brushing habits. Brush your teeth with the children to encourage proper brushing technique and habits.
  • Avoid sugar-based food and drinks in your diet. Set a good example for children and help them establish a lifetime of good dietary habits.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois wants to make sure everyone has the knowledge to help children learn good oral health habits. Together, we can create happy, smiling children.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Starting school can be an exciting time for young children. It’s a chance to learn new things and meet new friends. But, before heading into the classroom for the first time, children need to get vaccines to protect them and others from getting sick.

According to the National Library of Medicine, most recommended childhood vaccinations are 90-99 percent effective. Vaccines can provide protection against serious illnesses such as measles, mumps and polio, that can easily spread between children.

Before they start school, children need to be up to date on their shots. Your child’s doctor can tell you what vaccines are needed for their age. If a child is behind on their shots, their doctor can help them get caught up before school starts.

Some vaccines that are recommended for children before starting school include:

  • Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Rubella
  • Mumps
  • Varicella
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

An annual well-child visit is covered for members of Aetna Better Health® of Illinois. These visits are a great time to ask your child’s doctor what vaccines they need to get ready to start school. You can also discuss any concerns you may have about your child’s health or development.

If you need help finding a doctor, call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY 711). Always ask your child’s doctor about their health care needs.

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s also a time to celebrate mom. As we approach Mother’s Day, focus on the path to becoming a mom. Postpartum depression can be part of that journey.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, mental health issues are common during pregnancy and childbirth. About one in eight women in Illinois experience depression during pregnancy and postpartum.

Postpartum depression is often diagnosed within the first four weeks after giving birth. However, it may be identified later. The earlier screening begins, the sooner people can get treatment.

Signs include:

  • Feeling low, hopelessness or frequent crying
  • Changes in eating and sleep patterns
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feelings of helplessness or shame
  • Trouble bonding with your baby or fearing you're a bad mother
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Thoughts about harming yourself and others

Understanding symptoms of depression is important. But dealing with them is too. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois covers mental health care for our members. You can use our website’s Find a Provider tool to find care in your area.

We also offer extra benefits to help moms identify, track and address mental health. To qualify for these additional benefits, members must:

Know when to ask for help. Identifying the condition is the first step. Doctors can provide a diagnosis. Look for signs like mood swings, sadness, changes in sleeping or eating habits. These signs are key indicators of mental health issues.

Use available resources. Moodfit is a mobile app that’s available to Aetna Better Health of Illinois members. Moodfit learns what most affects your mood. It provides tools to help manage mental wellness. Users also learn how to reduce stress with relaxation tips and more.

The Pyx Health® app is another great option. Users can connect with a chat robot or staff for support. It can also help reduce stress and encourage positivity. Support services are available 24 hours a day.

Improve your mood. Make self-care choices. We provide services to help improve your mood and create lifestyle changes aimed at improving your physical and mental health. These extra benefits include a gym membership and weight management support. Call Member Services at 866-329-4701 (TTY: 711) to enroll in your extra benefits.

It takes a village. We’re part of that village. We even help during the baby shower stage! Aetna Better Health of Illinois hosts free baby showers throughout the year. People who attend have access to:

  • Tips and education on baby safety
  • Nutrition, healthy cooking demos and food samples
  • Games, prizes and giveaways

We also provide eligible members with a free convertible car seat and diaper bag. There are many benefits available. Take the time to learn more about them.

Pregnancy and the time that follows can be difficult, but you’re not alone. If you have questions, talk to your OB/GYN or doctor. There are also tips available online.

Aetna Better Health of Illinois is here to support you at any stage of your motherhood journey. Happy Mother’s Day!

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

June is National Men’s Health Month. This is a chance to give the man in your life the gift of health. Remind him to schedule a visit with his doctor—starting with an annual exam.

According to the Mayo Clinic, men older than 50 should have a physical exam every year. Men younger than 50 should have a physical exam every three to five years.

Regular checkups with your doctor can help identify signs of health conditions. Your doctor can also decide if you need more testing or screening. Early dedication can lead to prevention.

Take simple steps like staying up to date with immunizations. Shots recommended for men include:

·       Tetanus-Diphtheria (Td) or Tetanus Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap): every 10 years

·       Flu: every year

·       Shingles: two doses, separated by two to six months starting at age 50

·       Pneumonia: one at age 60 and one more after age 61

·       COVID-19: as recommended by your doctor

Men should also pay close attention to specific health conditions. Here are a few.

Blood pressure: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of adults in the U.S. live with high blood pressure. However, men are affected more than women. Risk factors include family history, alcohol use, being overweight and diet. Men should be screened once a year after they turn 18. It is also important to track your blood pressure. You can take your blood pressure with your doctor, at home or at a CVS Pharmacy®.

Cholesterol: High cholesterol is a medical condition that can lead to stroke. It can also lead to heart disease and other health conditions. There are many factors that can lead to high cholesterol. Family history, age, diet, being overweight, lack of exercise and smoking all play a role. However, you should talk to your doctor if you have concerns or questions. Men over the age of 20 should get screened every five years. Don’t wait until it’s too late. You can manage your cholesterol before it becomes a problem.

Diabetes: Diabetes increases your chance of heart disease. It can also affect other parts of your body. Heart disease can affect your eyes, kidneys and your skin. For men, diabetes can also lead to erectile dysfunction and other urological problems. Talk to your doctor about keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range. There are lifestyle changes you can take to get back on track.

Heart disease: Heart disease refers to different types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the U.S., according to the CDC. Risk factors for heart disease include family history, race, smoking, not getting enough exercise, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor immediately.

Cancer: There are different forms of cancer that affect men’s health. Types of cancer men should be aware of are colon cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. Regular screening and early detection are very important. Below are testing recommendations and some risk factors and signs to watch for.

  • Colon cancer: Testing should take place at 45 years and up. Your doctor can help determine your schedule.
  • Risk factors/signs: age, previous polyps or colon cancer, bowel disease, diet, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use
  • Prostate cancer: Testing is recommended at 50 years and up on an annual basis.
  •  Risk factors/signs: age, race (particularly African American), North American and Western European nationalities, family history and diet
  • Testicular cancer: Testing should start at 15 years of age and up at every routine check-up.
  • Risk factors/signs: family history, lump or swelling of the testicles

This National Men’s Health Month, share these helpful tips and information with the man in your life. And remember that the best gift you can give is encouragement to lead a healthier life.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois offers extra programs and services at no cost to our members. Our mission is to take care of your family’s health and well-being. If you need help finding care, check the back of your member ID card to find a doctor. You can also contact Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY 711).

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Summer is in full swing and we’re sharing ways to safely enjoy it. Whether you’re taking a dip in the pool or enjoying time outdoors, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Get moving safely

Plan your activity for the cooler parts of the day — either early morning or evening when the sun’s rays are weakest. Follow these tips to stay motivated:

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.
  • Add 10-minute activity breaks into your daily calendar.
  • Find an activity you enjoy.
  • Encourage a friend to join you to help stay on track.

Use sun protection

The sun’s rays are strongest and more likely to cause damage at midday. Avoid the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM. If you need to be in the sun, wear a wide brim hat and natural and breathable fabrics. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses with UV protection — your eyes can be damaged by the sun.

Before you head out the door, grab your sunscreen. Don’t miss a beat and follow this checklist:

  • Choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 to protect from both UVA and UVB rays.  
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes before you go out in the sun.
  • Cover all skin that will be exposed.
  • Don’t forget about your lips! Use a lip balm that has SPF 30 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours.

Stay hydrated

Drinking enough fluids is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heat exhaustion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. Here are a few things to also keep in mind:

  • Drink water before feeling thirsty.
  • Drink water at shorter intervals.
  • Drink enough water to replace what you have lost through sweat.
  • Avoid energy drinks, alcohol and caffeine.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois encourages you to enjoy summer and stay safe while having fun. No matter what you do, stay focused on your health and wellness. 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

As you gear up for a new school year, remember there is more to preparing for the back-to-school season than checking off the school supply list. Set your family up for success by creating healthy habits that can be practiced throughout the year. Try these tips to get prepared.

  1.  Stay up to date on immunizations. Set up an appointment with your family's doctor and  ask about any vaccines your child needs. Take a moment to set up an annual check-up for yourself, too. Remember, it’s not just infants, children and preteens who need to get their shots. Adults should also stay up to date with their vaccinations, such as the Tdap vaccine.
  2.  Create a balanced lifestyle. School can be a source of anxiety for some children. Don’t forget about your family’s mental health. Creating time to prioritize mental health as your child reaches emotional milestones can help them set healthy mental health habits as they grow into adulthood. Whether it’s taking time to reflect in the morning or setting a time to unwind, stress and mental health management is key. Try meditation exercises as a family or something a bit more active like yoga. Visit our Behavioral Health page to learn more.
  3.  Stay active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 60 minutes of  daily physical activity for children between the ages of 6–17.Make it a family event! Take family walks or jogs around the neighborhood. You can also take advantage of after-school sports. Some schools and park districts offer activities for free. If cost is a challenge, you can also start a fun game with your family. Don’t overthink it. Grab a ball and get active!
  4.  Build healthy eating habits. Switching up your family’s eating style can be a challenge, especially when you don’t know where to start. Make simple changes to your meals like having fruit after dinner instead of a sweet dessert. You can also swap a side for vegetables or create a veggie platter as an after-school snack. Your food choices affect both your physical and mental health. There is a clear link between diet and emotions, specifically when it comes to the relationship between your brain and tummy. Try adding more whole foods, fibers and vitamins to your diet. Learn more about foods that can boost your mental health.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois offers free school clothes to help members to get ready for the school year. Three times a year eligible members can receive a shirt, pants and a sweater. To qualify, you need to:

  • Complete a health risk screening
  • Complete an annual wellness visit
  • Be up to date on all immunizations

Visit our What’s Covered page to learn more about this program and additional rewards you could receive.

The start of a new school year can be challenging but, Aetna Better Health® of Illinois offers programs to members to get ready and set themselves up for success. For more information on the resources provided to you, visit our website.

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

September is Suicide Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness and share resources about this important topic. While suicide is a national public health problem, it is preventable. Research shows that 90 percent of people who die by suicide may have experienced symptoms of a mental illness. This makes it crucial for people who have symptoms of mental illness to seek help. It is equally important to discuss ways to prevent suicide. Suicide impacts individuals, families and communities. We can all play an active role in suicide prevention if we TALK:

  • Talk about it
  • Be an Active listener
  • Learn the warning signs and
  • Keep hope

Talk about it

It’s ok to talk about emotions, feelings and situations that may be causing distress. Being willing to have open, honest conversations about mental illness is key in suicide prevention. Sharing facts about suicide and mental illness can help reduce the stigma associated with seeking help. If you are concerned about someone, it is ok to ask them directly about suicide. If they respond “yes,” be prepared to act and get immediate help to get the person to safety. Talking can save lives.

Be an active listener 

Active listening helps build trust and understanding. It is based on the three Rs – Repeat, Reflect, Respond. Give your full attention. After allowing the other person to speak without interrupting, repeat what you’ve heard in a non-judgmental way.  Use reflection to empathize, express concern and ask questions. Responding shows that you are interested in what the other person is saying. Your response does not always have to be verbal. Making and maintaining eye contact or nodding your head are other ways to show your support. Listening can save lives.

Learn the warning signs

Although there is no one indicator of suicidal tendencies, there are common warning signs including:

  • Discussing wanting to die, having no reason to live or being a burden to others
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug use
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Showing lack of interest in future plans or giving away possessions

If you or someone you know have any of these warning signs, get help as soon as possible. Knowing the warning signs can save lives.

Keep hope

When someone has lost hope, they may consider suicide. That’s why it is important to keep hope. Hope is the belief that things will get better no matter how dark the current situation may be. The World Health Organization designated “creating hope through action” as the theme for World Suicide Prevention Day from 2021 - 2023. It reminds us there is an alternative to suicide and aims to inspire confidence and light in all of us. Instilling hope can save lives.

If you or someone you know are struggling, know that help is available. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline will connect those in crisis to a trained counselor and provides 24/7 free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

You can also call our behavioral health hotline at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711). Choose 1 for behavioral health crisis. You can talk to someone 24 hours a day. And they’ll link you to the right resources.  

If you have a medical emergency and need help right now, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.  You can use any hospital for emergency care, even if it isn’t in our network. Just show your member ID card. 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

The key to a good doctor’s visit is being prepared. Create a plan to help make the visit easier, whether it’s with your primary care provider or a specialty physician. Make the most of your visit by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Make sure your doctor is in-network. Your primary care provider’s name is listed on your member ID card. Call us at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711) to schedule a visit. If you’re seeing another doctor, call their office to be sure they are in your health plan network.
  • Do your research. Choose the best doctor for you. Being comfortable with your doctor is key to getting the treatment you need and deserve. Trust is also important when sharing health information. Consider your background and beliefs as well. Maybe you’re more comfortable with a female doctor or someone of the same ethnic background as you. Consider all factors to help you get the best care possible.
  • Make a list of questions before your visit. Go into the visit with a goal in mind. Ask questions and share notes on events or symptoms leading up to your visit. The more questions, the better!
  • Know your family history. Family history can have a major impact on your health. It can also help doctors understand your current health. Gather as much family history as possible. Include history on diseases like cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
  • Share past procedures and medication. Make a list of past procedures like surgeries and vaccines. Also, make a list of past and current medications. Include key information like dosage, refill dates, the reason for taking the medication and any side effects.
  • Bring the proper support. It’s okay if you need support. It can be someone you know or someone at the doctor’s office. Also, ask for a translator if you’re more comfortable speaking your native language. You can also bring family or friends to help translate general information.
  • Have an emergency contact. Confirm your emergency contact before your visit. Carefully consider this for tests and procedures. Choose someone you trust to gather and share information back to you. This is important when getting a new diagnosis or treatment plan.
  • Be honest. A doctor-patient relationship is a partnership, not a one-time exchange. Doctors are there to provide you with care. There needs to be mutual trust. On that same note, report any negative experience to our Fraud and Abuse Hotline at 1-866-536-0542 (TTY:711).

We’re here to help. Call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711) Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM to:

  • Make an appointment
  • Get help with your benefits
  • Arrange a ride to the doctor’s office

And remember, set yourself up for success to receive the best care possible from your health care team.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation tells us that breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide. In 2020, it became more common than lung cancer for the first time. It's also the cancer that American women are most likely to have.

But what is breast cancer, exactly? It's a disease where abnormal cells in the breast start growing too fast and in a disordered way. There are different types of breast cancer, depending on the type of cells involved. That's why it’s important to learn more about the risk factors.

To detect signs of breast cancer early, consider these risks:

  • As women get older, their chance of getting breast cancer goes up. More than 3 out of 4 breast cancer cases happen in women over 50.
  • It's important to know your family history. If your mom, sister, grandma or daughter has had breast cancer, it may raise your risk. Genetics play a major role.
  • How your body is built also matters. If you have dense breasts or are overweight, it might increase your risk.
  • Breast cancer can be confusing so It's important to talk to a doctor about ways to check for breast cancer and lower your chances of getting it.
  • Be honest. Tell your doctor about any changes you see in your breasts like pain, lumps, skin changes, nipple discharge or changes in nipple appearance. Note changes in size and shape of your breast, too.

One of the best ways to detect breast cancer early is by getting a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts. Getting this exam on a regular basis can help find problems early. If you’re 40 or older and have an average risk for breast cancer, get a mammogram every other year. You might need to start screening earlier if you’re  younger than 40 and have family history of breast cancer or are at higher risk. Early detection is key.

Mammograms are covered by Aetna Better Health® of Illinois for members starting at age 40. Members may be eligible to receive a $25 incentive through Aetna Better Care® Rewards by getting an annual mammogram.

Remember that we're here to help. You can set up your screening by calling your doctor’s office or Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY: 711).

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

Flu, COVID-19 and RSV are three illnesses that spread more during the fall and winter months. These three viruses are the reason for many hospital stays during this time of year.

The good news? This is the first fall and winter virus season where vaccines are available to protect against all three illnesses.

It’s important to watch for signs of flu, COVID-19 and RSV and learn how to protect yourself and others. The signs of sickness won’t be the same for everyone. Always call your doctor’s office if you need testing or treatment, or if your symptoms are getting worse.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by a virus that spreads quickly and easily. Signs of COVID-19 can include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headache and other symptoms. People with COVID-19 may have a mild illness or get very sick and need to be in the hospital.

If you think you have COVID-19, get tested.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against serious illness from the virus.

Flu

A virus also causes the flu — short for influenza. It easily spreads from one person to another. It affects the nose, throat and lungs. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces, other people can get the virus.

Flu can come on suddenly and cause fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and a headache. If you think you may have the flu, your doctor may do a quick test.

The best protection against serious illness from the flu is getting a flu shot every year. It’s recommended for everyone six months and older.

Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members ages 18 and older who get a flu shot between September 15, 2023, and December 31, 2023, can receive a $10 gift card. Learn more here.

RSV

RSV — short for respiratory syncytial virus — is usually mild with symptoms and can cause a runny nose, cough and congestion. But RSV can also cause wheezing and rapid breathing. It can turn into a serious illness for some people, including babies, young children, older people and those with chronic health conditions.

Parents should call their child’s doctor if their child isn’t drinking enough, has trouble breathing or if their symptoms are getting worse.

Vaccines are available to protect babies, toddlers and older adults against serious illness from RSV. Parents and those expecting a baby should ask their doctor which vaccine option may be best. Adults ages 60 and older should ask their doctor if the RSV vaccine is right for them.

Tips for staying well

To stay healthy during this season, avoid being close to people who are sick, wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. Places that are touched often, like doorknobs, phones and bathroom surfaces, should be frequently cleaned.

If you get sick, check with your doctor about medicines or other treatment you may need. Be sure to get plenty of rest and always call your doctor’s office if symptoms are getting worse.

You can find out more about protecting against flu, COVID-19 and RSV at CDC.gov.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

When you take the first step to live a life without smoking, you're starting a healthier you. By quitting smoking, you can reduce the chances of getting cancer and other diseases. Quitting smoking takes time and a plan. The good news? There are many great resources to help you on your journey.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. In the United States, smoking cigarettes is linked to about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer caused by smoking. It can also lead to other cancers like those in the mouth, sinuses, throat, esophagus and bladder. Cigars, pipes and electronic vaping devices can also be harmful and cause cancer.

By getting rid of tobacco, you're doing something great for your health. Some of the health benefits of quitting start within hours of your last cigarette. For example, when you stop smoking:

  • In 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate drop
  • In 8 hours, your carbon monoxide levels go down, and your oxygen levels return to normal
  • In 24 hours, your risk of a heart attack goes down
  • In 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste gets better
  • In 2 weeks to 3 months, your lung function increases by up to 10%

There are many other benefits to a smoke-free life, like having a brighter smile and clearer skin. You will also lower your cholesterol. It also improves the health of those around you.

There are ways to quit smoking. Talk to your doctor to help choose what’s right for you. Some common options include:

  • Nicotine replacements (like gum or patches)
  •  Medications such as:
    • Zyban, Wellbutrin
    • Varenicline
    • Aventyl, Pamelor

This November, join the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout. It's a challenge that lets you begin a smoke-free life and be healthier.

For more information on quitting smoking call 1-866-QUIT-YES (1-866-784-8937) TTY 1-800-501-1068 for resources on how to quit using tobacco or e-cigarettes. To learn how to get involved in the Great American Smokeout in your community, visit www.cancer.org.

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

The new year is a great time to rethink your lifestyle choices. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois is here to provide support in that journey. As our member, we’ve added new benefits this year just for you.

  • Free baby essentials: Eligible members can get either a car seat, a highchair, or play yard, plus a diaper bag and $45 each month to spend on diapers.
  • Free educational support: Eligible members ages 18 and older can get career training, skill building and GED support.
  • Free meal delivery: Eligible members ages 18 and older with a qualifying diagnosis can get meal delivery services with personal nutrition support.

Visit our website for info on qualifying for these extra benefits.

The new year is also a time to plan. Take a moment to set goals. Maybe your new year’s resolution is to be more active? Maybe your goal is to get more sleep? Or perhaps you’d like to eat better. Planning is key to achieving your goals and sticking with them. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a healthier you this year.

  • Sleep more: People lose sleep for many reasons. Work, responsibilities or staying up late are all factors to losing sleep. Loss of sleep is normal every now and then. However, that should not happen all the time. Not getting enough sleep could raise your chances of illnesses like obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and mental health issues. Adults should aim for at least seven hours of sleep. Start with a routine to help you achieve your sleep goals. Set an alarm to get ready for bed. You can also track sleep on many mobile devices now, too.
  • Plan your meals: Planning meals to prepare at home is a good way to eat healthier. It also helps avoid less healthy options like drive-through meals and snacking. Snacking can impact your health if you don’t choose healthy options. Avoid unhealthy snacks and opt for healthier options like fruit and vegetables. Our meal delivery benefit also offers healthier options and nutrition support.
  • Exercise: Get active! Adults need at least 150 minutes of physical activity a day. Children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day. Following these steps can decrease the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer or diabetes. People who stay active usually live longer, too! Active people have a lower chance of facing major health issues like obesity and certain cancers. Even for those with long-term health problems, being active can help control their conditions. Start small. Take a stroll around your neighborhood. Small steps go a long way.
  • Drink more water: Staying hydrated is key. Drinking enough water every day is very important for staying healthy. It helps prevent dehydration, which causes your body to overheat and triggers headaches. It can also lead to other problems like constipation and kidney stones. You can start with small changes. Replace sugary drinks and caffeine for water. Buy a bottle to help track how much water you drink. Small steps like these can help you prevent diseases like diabetes.

There are several easy steps you can take to become a better you this year. Use these tips as a guide. And remember to review your coverage options. There are many benefits you can take advantage of throughout the year. For more info on your coverage, visit the What’s Covered page on our website or call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY:711).

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

January marks Cervical Health Awareness Month. It’s a time to spread knowledge about cervical health. This includes prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. Understanding and identifying symptoms can make a big difference in early detection and treatment. 

Some symptoms to look for include:

·       Unusual vaginal bleeding

·       Pain or discomfort

·       Unexplained weight loss and fatigue

It’s important to catch these signs early. Cervical cancer grows slowly. It starts with small cell changes on the cervix. It can stay in this early stage for up to ten years or more before spreading to nearby tissue. However, cervical cancer is treatable when found early.

There are ways to know your cervix health. Here are some steps to keep in mind:  

Pap tests: Routine check ups are important. Schedule your regular Pap test. Doctors can detect abnormal cells before they turn into cancer. Remember to ask questions, too. If you notice any changes, let your doctor know.

HPV vaccination: Stay up to date with your vaccines. Talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine. It protects against most common types of viruses that lead to cervical cancer. Preteens can get the shot but talk to your doctor about the best age to do so.

Family history: Know your family's medical history, especially regarding cervical health. You may be able to detect signs sooner or know if you’re at risk.

Lifestyle: Eating healthy is important. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great to create a balanced diet. Avoid bad habits, too. Quit smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. Also, practice safe sex and use protection. These two steps reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Check your benefits for support, too. Aetna Better Health® of Illinois members may be eligible to receive a $25 incentive for getting a cervical cancer screening (Pap test). Reward dollars will be available after we receive notice from your doctor that you completed your test.

Cervical Health Awareness Month serves as a reminder for women to prioritize their reproductive health. Women should understand the symptoms, get regular check-ups and take proactive steps. Remember, early detection is key. Being proactive can lead to a healthier and happier life.

We’re here to help. Call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY:711) to:

·       Get help with questions

·       Schedule an appointment

·       Arrange transportation

By Marilyn Griffin, MD, FAPA, DFAACAP

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, some people experience changes in their mood. While the “winter blues” is common during colder months of the year, constant feelings of sadness could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD is a form of mild to moderate depression that typically happens in the fall or winter months. In most cases, it goes away in the spring.

Frequent feelings of sadness is concerning. According to the Mayo Clinic, common signs of SAD to look for include:

·         Feeling sad or down most of the day or nearly every day

·         Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

·         Having low energy and feeling sluggish

·         Sleeping too much

·         Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain

·         Having difficulty concentrating

·         Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

·         Having thoughts of not wanting to live

Although SAD can occur during any season, winter-pattern SAD occurs more often. These patterns can include withdrawing from others, sleeping a lot, wanting to eat more, especially foods like bread and pasta and gaining weight. It is important to know these signs of winter-pattern SAD and ask for help if you need it. You can also try doing things on your own to feel better.

·         Social connections: Social withdrawal is common. Plan ahead to maintain and create social connections. Spend time with friends and loved ones. Social interactions can provide a valuable support system during challenging times. Virtual gatherings are great, too!

·         Nutrition: Pay attention to your diet. Make sure you are eating a balanced mix of nutrients. Some studies suggest that certain foods, such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, may have mood-enhancing effects. A treat every now and then does not hurt either.

·         Healthy lifestyle choices: Stay hydrated and avoid drinking too much alcohol or caffeine. Be sure to get enough sleep. These changes can positively impact mood and energy levels.

·         Exercise: Include movement into your daily routine. Exercise has many mental health benefits. It releases endorphins, which can help fight feelings of sadness and fatigue. A short walk can go a long way!

Whether you may have the “winter blues” or SAD, mental health professionals can provide help to navigate your symptoms. Contact a professional if symptoms continue or get worse. Remember, you are not alone. Getting help is a step towards brighter days ahead.

You can find more information on depression at CDC.org. If you or someone you know are experiencing a mental health crisis, the suicide and crisis lifeline provides 24/7 connection to confidential support, call or text 988. 

By Lakshmi Emory, MD, MPH - Chief Medical Officer

February is American Heart Month. It is a time to focus on your heart health or get on track.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the US. However, there are ways you can lower your risk. Remember, preventive care starts with you.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for heart health. The heart plays a key role in the overall functioning of the body. Here are simple steps to improve your heart health:

See your doctor: Schedule a check-up. Regular visits allow doctors to review your overall health and provide direction on preventive measures.

Know your numbers: Be aware of key health indicators. Monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Knowing these numbers can help you identify potential risk factors and take appropriate action.

Adopt a heart-healthy diet: Focus on a balanced and nutritious diet. Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Nutritious food is the key to a healthy heart.

Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have any existing health conditions.

Quit smoking: If you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Smoking speeds up the clogging and narrowing of coronary arteries. It can also lead to other diseases, like cancers.

Manage stress: Stress can impact heart health. Practice stress-reducing activities. Do deep breathing exercises, yoga or hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.

Monitor your weight: If you're overweight, losing even a small amount can have a positive impact on your heart health. Make sustainable lifestyle changes. Small steps can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Take small steps. Replace unhealthy snacks with veggies.

Limit alcohol consumption: If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For women, this means up to one drink per day. For men, it’s no more than two drinks per day.

Remember, heart health is a year-round commitment, but using American Heart Month as a starting point is a great way to kickstart positive changes in your lifestyle.

We’re also here to help to get your heart health on track. Call Member Services at 1-866-329-4701 (TTY:711) to:

·         Get help with questions

·         Schedule an appointment

·         Find out if you qualify for a free blood pressure pump

·         Arrange a ride to the doctor or pharmacy

Also of interest: