African American men are more likely to suffer from hypertension, congestive heart failure, prostate cancer, and diabetes than Caucasian men. And, although fewer Caucasian men are dying from cardiovascular and coronary disease, unfortunately this encouraging statistic doesn’t apply to African American men.
Studies show these diseases and others are often discovered at a later stage, strike at a younger age, and require hospitalization for a longer period of time for African Americans. Additionally, data indicates that African Americans are less likely than other ethnic groups to receive interventional care. Many African American men and women are at risk for high cholesterol and obesity, and may have a sedentary lifestyle. African Americans may not receive regular check-ups from a healthcare professional. These risk factors, combined with not having preventative care, may increase the chance of developing a chronic health condition, and developing complications from conditions.
Help the African American Man in Your Life
If you’re providing care for an African American man, you’re in a good position to become his leading advocate for living a healthier lifestyle. You can develop a game plan that works with his daily schedule, meets his nutritional needs, and offers him some time to exercise (with doctor’s approval!). By doing this you help reduce his risk for a number of chronic conditions that could potentially compromise his life if left unchecked.
To help you get the ball rolling, here are some suggested changes you can consider if your loved one has hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, or diabetes. Be sure to talk first with your loved one’s doctor before taking any of these steps!
High blood pressure develops at an earlier age and is diagnosed more often in African American men than any other racial or ethnic population. High blood pressure has no symptoms and places your loved one at greater risk for stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and kidney disorders. Having your loved one’s blood pressure checked regularly by his doctor is the best way to know if he has this condition, but there are steps you can also take to monitor this condition.
Know his “numbers”— Talk with the doctor to determine if you should be monitoring your loved one’s blood pressure at home. If so, he/she can tell you where to purchase a blood pressure cuff, what a “normal” reading should be for your loved one, how to read the comparative “numbers,” and how often you should monitor his blood pressure.
The top number represents the pumping or “systolic” pressure and the bottom number is the resting rate or “diastolic” pressure.
“Normal” Blood Pressure Numbers
Blood pressure varies from person to person, so it is important to check with a doctor to determine what the appropriate range is for you or a loved one. Generally, a resting blood pressure under 120/80 mmHg is considered normal; a reading between 120/80 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg is pre-hypertension; and constant readings of 140/90 mmHg or higher indicate high blood pressure. To help you track of this information, consider keeping a journal and making an entry showing the date, time, and blood pressure reading. Take this record with you to your loved one’s next doctor appointment.
Help Control High Blood Pressure
Reduce dietary salt (sodium) —Many canned foods, some processed foods and drinks, and convenient foods are high in salt. Check labels on food packages before you buy them to determine sodium content. If your loved one has high blood pressure, keep sodium at below 200 mg per serving. Recognize too that the average person should only have about one teaspoon of salt daily. Another way to reduce salt in your loved one’s diet is to not set a saltshaker on the dining table or a dinner tray!
Take medications as prescribed —High blood pressure can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medication. If your loved one is taking high blood pressure medicine, be sure he complies by taking the prescribed dosage at the appropriate time(s) throughout the day. Some men experience side effects from blood pressure medications. If this is the case with your loved one, then make sure he talks to his doctor about alternative medication, rather than just stopping his current prescription. You can help him too by using a journal to track his medications and any side effects—along with his blood pressure.
African American men are at greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than any other group of men. By better understanding the risk factors of cardiovascular disease, you can support your loved one by making positive lifestyle changes to help him be “heart healthy.” Get started with these:
A 2000 study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports African American men have almost the twice the risk of prostate cancer compared to Caucasian men1, and they also have the highest incidence2 and mortality rate of the disease in the U.S. Findings from a 2000 Roper Starch survey also indicate African American men are far more likely to have side effects from treatments for prostate cancer and suffer from incontinence than Caucasian men.
What are the reasons for this high rate of prostate cancer among African American men? Some suggest it may be attributable, at least in part, to:
Your loved one is at greater risk for prostate cancer if another man in his family has had the disease. He should share this information with his doctor and be checked annually for prostate cancer with a digital rectal examination. And, if he’s 45 years or older, the American Cancer Society recommends a screening blood test for PSA (prostate specific antigen) be done every year. When prostate cancer is detected early, the prognosis is often good.
As his caregiver, your support of a healthy lifestyle can aid in cancer prevention. This “health wise” approach should include a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, physical exercise, regular check-ups and PSA screening, as well as staying informed about new studies, treatments, and outcomes related to the disease.
More than twenty million Americans have diabetes, and a third of them don’t know they have it. Many people have no symptoms, which can make detection more difficult. Unfortunately, African American men suffer disproportionately from this disease. And, if it is not caught early, over time high levels of glucose in the blood can damage nerves and blood vessels leading to other problems including heart disease, stroke, blindness, erectile dysfunction, kidney disease and even amputation.
The good news is that for most people diabetes can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. And, when caught early, diabetes can be controlled. What can you do to help your loved one reduce his risk of developing diabetes? As his caregiver, you can be instrumental in helping him control his weight and enjoy a nutritious diet.
Support weight loss and a healthy diet —The number of African American men who are overweight is staggering. Even more disturbing is that children and young adults are also becoming obese. Losing as little as 10 pounds can reduce the risk of developing diabetes. So encouraging those you love and care for to maintain a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do. While losing weight isn’t an easy prescription to administer, research has found that it is one of the best things we can do for our bodies to protect us from a number of illnesses.
To help your loved one manage his weight and eat healthier foods, you should:
Encourage physical activity —While it may not be easy, look for ways you can build physical activity into your loved one’s routine. First, talk with his doctor to learn what type of physical activity he can do easily and how much time to devote to it. Ideally, and if he’s physically up to the task, strive for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise every day.
Even if your loved one is leading a “healthy lifestyle,” he still may develop diabetes, most likely Type 2 that is most common among adults. Early warning signs include excessive thirst and urination, being easily fatigued and weight gain. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that your loved one is developing diabetes. In turn, your doctor can order a simple blood test to determine blood glucose levels. Early detection is important for more positive outcomes.
1 Platz, E. et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2000) 92:2009-17.
2 CDC, US Cancer Statistics (2000), Incidence.