African Americans are a very vulnerable ethnic group regarding physical health. African Americans are amongst the most at-risk individuals in most major disease categories. Reasons for higher at-risk rates are speculated to involve a lack of healthcare access, a lack of doctor visits, and poor health referrals. Regardless, it is essential to know health risks to ensure proper research, preparation, and prevention. Here are seven common African American health issues.
Heart disease is a term referring to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD affects blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can lead to a heart attack.
Heart disease can lead to significant issues, including heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia.
- A heart attack involves chest pain and discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
- Arrhythmia involves fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations).
- Heart failure involves shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins.
Heart diseases are the leading cause of American health-related deaths. Mortality rates related to heart diseases have decreased for Whites since the 1970s. Heart disease rates have not reduced for African Americans. Data suggests that African Americans do not have heart disease at higher speeds but that African Americans have a smaller chance of surviving a cardiovascular event. African Americans 18 to 49 are twice as likely to die of heart disease than other Americans. The Affordable Care of 2010 has given all Americans health care, which helps, but the problem persists. African Americans do not get referrals for potentially lifesaving treatments like catheterization fast enough.
High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of arteries. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. High blood pressure is known as hypertension—high blood pressure measures above normal. One in three African Americans suffers from high blood pressure. African Americans are less likely to have healthy blood pressure levels than non-Hispanic Caucasian Americans. African Americans develop high blood pressure earlier in life and usually have higher blood pressure levels.
High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are risk factors for heart disease. Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices that can also put people at higher risk for heart disease are:
- Overweight and obesity
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Cancer is a disease in which cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other body parts. The increase in cell production can damage surrounding areas of the body. Cancer is the #2 killer for all races. African American men are 50% more likely than white men to get lung cancer. More African American men experience issues like an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. More African American males die from cancer than any other ethnic group. African American women under the age of 35 have cancer rates twice as high as Caucasian women of the same period, with a 42% higher death rate from the disease. African American women are three times more likely to die from breast cancer than young Caucasian women.
Diabetes is a disease involving high blood sugar. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as non-Hispanic whites. African Americans are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, including end-stage renal disease and lower-extremity amputations.
A stroke occurs due to abnormal brain blood vessels. There are two major types of strokes: Ischemic stroke and Hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow through the artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked. Hemorrhagic stroke is a type of stroke where an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures and floods the brain tissue with blood. The leaked blood puts pressure on the brain cells and damages them. Vascular disease affects your arteries and veins. Stokes impact African Americans more than any other racial group. African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians and are more likely to become disabled and experience daily activities if they survive the stroke. Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, smoking, and obesity.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that develops when arteries become clogged with fatty deposits that limit circulation. The buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries is called atherosclerosis. PAD can occur in any blood vessel but is most common in the legs. PAD affects one in every 20 Americans over 50. PAD is most common in African Americans. PAD increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Risk factors for PAD include:
- High Blood Pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being over 60 years old
Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle Cell Disease is a category of inherited red blood cell disorder. One in every 500 African Americans develops sickle cell. Sickle cell occurs when round red blood cells become sticky and sickle-shaped. Sickle cells die faster than healthy cells, which creates a shortage of red blood cells (anemia). Sickle cells get stuck in blood vessels, preventing proper flow. Sickle cell can cause weakness, pain, infection, kidney disease, stroke, or acute chest syndrome. Acute chest Syndrome is life-threatening and causes fever, chest pain, and breathing difficulties. Sickle cell disease can shorten life expectancy by up to 30 years.
The only cure for sickle cell disease is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant involves collecting healthy red blood cells from one patient and transferring them to a patient with sickle cell. The introduction of the health cells stimulates the bone marrow to generate new, healthy cells. Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are painful, expensive, risky, and have serious side effects.
Physical health literacy is critical. Being familiar with various common diseases may help identify symptoms of that disease early. Familiarity with common conditions and symptoms could help family and friends unaware of their symptoms. With African Americans being at such high risk for these life-threatening diseases, it is essential to share this information as much as possible.