Over the past few years, the topic of healthcare disparities between African Americans and White Americans has increasingly made headlines. Unfortunately, disparities continue – some based on genetics and some based on socioeconomic factors.
There are some health issues that African Americans are more susceptible to than other demographics. This coupled with a lack of insurance and poor access to quality care makes for an alarming situation. Sadly, many of the health issues that affect African Americans could be more easily treated with better access to insurance coverage and quality care.
Top 7 Health Issues for African Americans to Monitor
Mortality rates among African Americans have declined in recent years by as much as 25%. However, chronic diseases among African Americans seem to be on the rise, especially among younger age groups. The primary health issues that African Americans should monitor include the following:
1. Heart Disease
Heart disease is a leading cause of illness and death among all demographics in the United States. Unfortunately, while the rate of heart disease among White Americans seems to be declining, the rate among African Americans remains more steady. What’s more, African Americans are more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than other demographics. Disparities in access to care and quality care are believed to be the primary reasons why.
African Americans are more likely to suffer from vascular diseases – or, diseases that affect the veins and arteries throughout the body. The veins and arteries are where blood clots can form, which can dislodge and move to the brain causing a stroke. African Americans are more likely than any other race to suffer a stroke. Unfortunately, they also have twice the risk of dying from a stroke.
Experts aren’t certain why this disparity exists, but do note that there are certain risk factors that increase the risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity – all conditions that are more common among African Americans.
3. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects as many as one in three African Americans. Unfortunately, many people who have high blood pressure don’t recognize the signs until their health is at risk. Furthermore, African Americans are less likely to have high blood pressure controlled through routine medical care and/or medications. Alarmingly, African Americans tend to develop high blood pressure earlier in life, which can lead to more chronic and damaging illnesses.
Diabetes occurs when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are uncontrolled in the body. Often, the body does not produce enough insulin to break down blood sugar into fuel. As a result, diabetics experience a variety of healthcare problems associated with high blood sugar, such as neuropathy, vision impairment, renal disease, and the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White Americans. Furthermore, they are more likely to suffer from more severe complications.
Cancer is the number one killer among all races. Unfortunately, some types of cancer are more likely to develop in certain demographics. For example, African American men are around 50% more likely to develop lung cancer than other demographics. Another example is breast cancer. African American women under 35 years of age have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer than White Americans. African American women are also more than 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than other groups.
6. Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, occurs when fatty deposits build up inside the arteries and impact circulation. Around one in every 20 Americans over 50 years of age suffer from PAD. It is more common, however, among African Americans compared to other groups. Experts believe this is likely due to similar risk factors to stroke, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
7. Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is, generally, a rare disease among Americans. This rare blood disorder affects around one in every 500 African Americans who develop sickle cell, accounting for more than 90,000 people. Sickle cell is devastating to the body. It causes red blood cells to become hard and sticky, and instead of being round, they are shaped like a sickle. These cells tend to die faster than healthy cells, which results in low red blood counts.
People with sickle cell disease frequently suffer from anemia due to the shortage of red blood cells. Over time, patients are at risk for blood clots, stroke, infection, kidney disease, and breathing problems. The only cure for sickle cell disease is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant – both procedures are extremely expensive, painful, and have side effects.