Several deadly diseases strike black Americans harder and more often than
they do white Americans.
Fighting back means genetic research. It means changing the system for
testing new drugs. It means improving health education. It means overcoming
disparities in health care. It means investments targeted to the health of
black Americans. And the evidence so far indicates that these investments will
pay health dividends not just for racial minorities, but for everyone.
In the vast majority of cases, there are no clear symptoms of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and eye problems if untreated. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. This is especially important if you have a close relative who has high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:
Yet we're closer to the beginning of the fight than to the end. Some
Diabetes is 60% more common in black Americans than in white Americans.
Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to
5.6 times more likely to suffer kidney disease than other people with
African-Americans are three times more likely to die of asthma than white
Deaths from lung scarring -- sarcoidosis -- are 16 times more common among
blacks than among whites. The disease recently killed former NFL star Reggie
White at age 43.
Despite lower tobacco exposure, black men are 50% more likely than white
men to get lung cancer.
Strokes kill 4 times more 35- to 54-year-old black Americans than white
Americans. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of whites.
Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life -- and with much higher
blood pressure levels -- than whites. Nearly 42% of black men and more than 45%
of black women aged 20 and older have high blood pressure.
Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet black men have a
40% higher cancer death rate than white men. African-American women have a 20%
higher cancer death rate than white women.
Genes definitely play a role. So does the environment in which people live,
socioeconomic status -- and, yes, racism, says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, associate
dean of clinical affairs and medical director for heart failure/transplantation
at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Yancy says that all humans have the same physiology, are vulnerable to the
same illnesses, and respond to the same medicines. Naturally, diseases and
responses to treatment do vary from person to person. But, he says, there are
unique issues that affect black Americans.
"We must recognize there are some arbitrary issues that are present in
the way we practice medicine and dole out health care," Yancy tells WebMD.
"It forces us to think very carefully about the very volatile issue of race
and what race means. At the end of the day, all of us acknowledge that race is
a very poor physiological construct. Race is a placeholder for something else.
That something is less likely to be genetic. It is more likely to have to do
with socioeconomics and political issues of bias as well as physiologic and
genetic issues that go into that same bucket. Some racial differences are more
nuances. But there are issues of disparity and there are issues relative to
racism that operate in a very broad context."