Health conditions like colon cancer and cardiovascular diseases impact people within the Black community at much higher rates than most other racial backgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More often than not, the reason why isn’t linked to genetics. “We have to remember that there is structural racism in our society, and that [this has] been linked to causation in our diseases,” says Dr. Kendra Outler, a board-certified anesthesiologist with a background in public health.
And even after the onset of life-threatening conditions, systemic issues lead to health disparities that prevent many Black people from accessing the resources they need.
These are five health conditions that are plaguing Black communities at alarming rates, though the full list far exceeds this one:
- Cardiovascular disease (hypertension, stroke and congestive heart failure): “Non-Hispanic Black persons were more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander persons to die of heart disease in 1999 and 2017,” according to the CDC.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): “In 2019, Blacks/African Americans represented 13% of the U.S. population, but 40% of people with HIV,” says HIV.gov.
- Metabolic syndrome: Between 1988 and 2012, “Non-Hispanic black women were more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have metabolic syndrome,” CDC data shows.
- Colon cancer: In 2016, Black men had the highest incidence and mortality rates of colorectal cancer, when compared to other racial groups, per CDC data.
- Mental health conditions like depression: In 2021, “Black Americans were 1.16 times more likely to screen positive for depression than White respondents,” according to a PLOS ONE study of nearly 700,000 participants in the U.S. and U.K.
Thankfully, there are signs you can look out for, early on, and preventative practices you can implement in your life today to help protect yourself from developing these diseases.
Here’s what Outler suggests.
- High blood pressure: Anything over 120/80 is elevated, and over 130/90 classifies as hypertension
- Shortness of breath while completing routine activities like walking up the stairs
- Tightness in chest
- Know your family history: Does anyone in your family have high blood pressure? Have any of your family members had a stroke?
- Check your blood pressure numbers
- Limit your sodium intake
- Unexplained fever
- Weight loss
- Unexplained infections like repeat sore throats and swollen lymph nodes
- Practice safe sex
- Be aware of symptoms and risk factors
- Receive HIV testing if you’re experiencing symptoms
- Elevated cholesterol
- Having trouble losing weight
- High blood pressure
- Educate yourself on metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions including glucose intolerance, hypertension and increased abdominal growth.
- Look at family members. Does anyone else in your family struggle with metabolic syndrome?
- Measure your waistline: over 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women is indicative of metabolic syndrome, especially if your arms and legs are much smaller than your midsection.
- Rectal bleeding
- Extreme weight loss
- Inquire about if any of your family members have had colon cancer
- Get an earlier screening for colon cancer (before age 45) if it runs in your family
- Speak with trusted loved ones and doctors about changes in bowel movement
Mental health conditions
- Sleep disturbances
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed
- Feelings of sadness and emptiness
- Share how you’re feeling with people you trust
- Seek mental health support in times of need, including the national crisis hotline 988
- Consider apps for mental health support to get in touch with a professional sooner
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