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Five Conditions African Americans Face in Larger Numbers

Five Conditions African Americans Face in Larger Numbers

Your race plays a role in your risk for certain health issues and the outcomes you face once diagnosed. While everyone should be aware of these health conditions and monitor for them regularly, there are clear disparities for African Americans in both incidence and death rates. Most of these are closely connected, for example risk factors for diabetes include having high blood pressure, and having diabetes adds to your risk of heart disease.

1. High blood pressure

More than half (55%) of African Americans in the U.S. have high blood pressure. They are at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure earlier in life and experience disproportionately high rates of more severe high blood pressure. Historical and systemic factors play a major role in these statistics. Be sure to check your blood pressure regularly and know your numbers – 120/80 or lower is considered in the normal range.

2. Heart disease

African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. There are two different types of risk factors for heart disease: the ones you can’t control (age, gender, family history) and the ones you can (lifestyle, smoking, activity, diet). Knowing whether or not you have a family history of heart disease is important because it does increase your chances of a heart attack or stroke, and even if you show no symptoms, your doctor may recommend specific heart screenings by age 40. But, stay focused on what you can impact by not smoking, eating healthy, and exercising. Annual blood pressure and cholesterol checks also help.

3. Stroke

Both high blood pressure and heart disease are key risk factors for stroke, which is basically a “brain attack” in which your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen to function properly. Symptoms include trouble walking, speaking, and understanding, as well as paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg. A stroke is a medical emergency that often has life-altering effects and complications. African American women are twice as likely to have a stroke compared with non-Hispanic white women, and Black men are 70% more likely to die from a stroke.

4. Diabetes

Another issue to take a preventive approach to is diabetes, which is 60% more common among Black adults compared to non-Hispanic white adults. They are also twice as likely to die from diabetes and more likely to have serious complications. Risk factors for diabetes include high blood pressure and being overweight or obese, which is a condition that stands on its own, afflicting Black adults more than any other race or ethnicity in the U.S. (63% of men and 77% of women).

5. Cancer

Overall, the cancer mortality rate is higher for African Americans. For example, breast cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in Black women, and they’re at higher risk for triple-negative breast cancer, which is the most aggressive type of breast cancer that tends to occur at younger ages. Prostate cancer takes a harsher toll on Black men – they’re 50% more likely to develop it in their lifetime. And African Americans are more likely to get liver cancer and die from it than non-Hispanic whites. (Chronic liver disease, a leading cause of death for African Americans, is the biggest risk factor for liver cancer.)

A key takeaway in looking at these five conditions is that a healthy weight and healthy diet plus regular exercise are the best shot at reducing your risk. But living a healthier lifestyle is easier said than done for many people, depending on the social and economic factors they may face. For example, lack of access to fresh food makes it harder to follow doctor’s orders to eat better, or the repeated stress of trauma or an unstable environment can lead to an increase in hormones like adrenaline that can elevate blood pressure or can lead a person to drink, smoke or overeat.

Find a healthcare provider you trust and stay on top of annual wellness checks on your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies.

Victoria BourgeoisTony Johnson, II, MD
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Primary Care Group

Phone: (225) 367-4558

Baton Rouge General Physicians - Family & Sports Medicine

Phone: (225) 831-4030