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Self-care behavior, a key concept in health promotion, refers to decisions and actions that an individual can take to cope with a health problem or to improve his or her health. Examples of self-care behaviors include seeking information (e.g., reading books or pamphlets, searching the Internet, attending classes, joining a self-help group); exercising; seeing a doctor on a regular basis; getting more rest; lifestyle changes; following low fat diets; monitoring vital signs; and seeking advice through lay and alternative care networks, evaluating this information, and making decisions to act or even to do nothing. Self-care is generally viewed as a complement to professional health care for persons with chronic health conditions. Self-care behavior is, however, broader than just following a doctor's advice. It also encompasses an individual's learning from things that have worked in the past.
Presumed benefits of self-care include lower costs for the health care system; more effective working relationships between patients and physicians and other health care providers; increased patient satisfaction; and improved perceptions of one's health condition. Self-help behaviors have been shown to lessen pain and depression and to improve quality of life. However, a relationship between self-care behaviors and positive physiological outcomes has not been proven. Generally, health care practitioners encourage and support patients to practice self-care behaviors because patients then actively participate in their own care. However, many practitioners experience difficulty in offering advice on self-care behaviors because they are not aware of specific techniques, strategies, and supports that patients can use.
Within a health promotion context that views health as a resource for daily living, self-care is seen as empowering. Through acquisition of self-care skills, people are able to participate more actively in fostering their own health and in shaping conditions that influence their own health.
No single definition of self-care behavior has been broadly accepted. Definitions vary as to (1) who actually engages in self-care behavior (e.g., individual, family, community); (2) what prompts self-care behaviors (e.g., to practice health promotion, to prevent illness, to limit the impact of illness, to restore health); and (3) the extent to which health care professionals are involved.
The World Health Organization defines self-care as "activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. These activities are derived from knowledge and skills from the pool of both professional and lay experience. They are undertaken by lay people on their own behalf, either separately or in participative collaboration with professionals." Other experts define self-care in terms of individual behavior when a person functions on his or her own behalf in health promotion and prevention or in disease detection and treatment. In this definition, self-care behaviors occur without professional assistance, but individuals are informed by technical knowledge and skills derived from both professional and lay experience. Still others define self-care as involving activities to enhance health, prevent disease, evaluate symptoms, and restore health—either with or without participation by professionals.
Author Info: PATRICK MCGOWAN, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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