Top Serious Health Concerns for African Americans

MDVIP | November 12, 2008

The top serious health concerns for African Americans

  • Cardiovascular Disease—The #1 killer of African Americans.
  • Diabetes—3.2 million African Americans have diabetes, yet more than 33% do not know it.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency—Low Vitamin D has been associated with several types of cancer as well as certain autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus.
  • HIV/AIDS—Nearly half of the people who get HIV/AIDS are African American, suffering more deaths than any other race.
  • Cancer—Lung, Breast, Colon, Prostate—African American men are 35% more likely to die from prostate or colon cancer than Caucasian men and African American women are 18% more likely to die from breast cancer because of a genetic predisposition to aggressive forms of cancer.

“This is a national tragedy,” says Dr. Reginald S. Fowler, a member of the MDVIP nationwide network of doctors specializing in preventive and personalized healthcare. “The good news is that the risk of early death among African Americans can be reduced with a comprehensive annual physical examination, nutritional counseling, as well as, talking and listening to patients.” Dr. Fowler’s recommendations for these diseases are:

  • Cardiovascular Disease—The number one killer of all Americans but several studies show it is far worse for African Americans who are at greater risk for coronary disease or stroke. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking and family history coupled with high blood pressure and cholesterol concerns are the significant contributors to the development of these diseases. Dr. Fowler says that proper nutrition and exercise is the key to reversing the downward spiral. He adds that eating fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel which contain omega 3 fatty acids can help significantly. Also, cholesterol and blood pressure lowering drugs can be beneficial.
  • Diabetes—African Americans have more complications. Dr. Fowler recommends that regular consultations with a doctor are necessary and when nutrition alone does not help, closely monitored medication is a necessity.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency— African Americans have larger amounts of melanin which filters sunlight and decreases the absorption of the sun’s rays necessary for Vitamin D production. Dr. Fowler says there are few sources of Vitamin D other than sunlight and milk. Cheese and other dairy products are less effective. In addition, many African Americans are lactose intolerant, so the most common food sources are not options. Vitamin D supplements are the answer.
  • HIV/AIDS—In addition to HIV/AIDS, there are other issues facing African Americans including sexually transmitted diseases, lack of education and problems with using appropriate measures to eliminate the risk. Dr. Fowler says that the sometimes uncomfortable discussions about sex are crucial to the safety of sexually active individuals. A blood test can detect the disease and education can help stem the spread of the disease.
  • Lung, Breast, Colon and Prostate Cancer—Dr. Fowler says that the medical and family history of patients is crucial. In addition, screenings such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, chest x-ray and blood tests for these diseases on a regular basis is essential. Dr. Fowler strongly recommends that everyone should begin getting colonoscopies at age 50; however, he and other experts say African Americans can reasonably begin having them at 45. Early screening can improve a person’s ten year survival rate by 80-90%. Exercise is also important in maintaining one’s health but patients should always consult with their doctor initially.

Dr. Fowler says, ""One major aspect to preventing as well as controlling most diseases is nutrition. Eating more fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts such as walnuts and almonds, and less red meat can help to decrease the incidence of many diseases. And don’t forget exercise.” He also believes that many diseases can be diagnosed earlier or avoided altogether by a complete annual physical and carefully listening to patients. A sign hangs in his exam rooms for patients to see that says, Talk To Me. “It is critical to have an open relationship with your doctor in addition to a comprehensive annual physical examination,” he advises. “To create the perfect wellness plan for a patient, it is important to talk about everything, and I mean everything. The information that is garnered through conversation is crucial to maintaining your health.”

Unfortunately, the aforementioned diseases are not the only diseases that have high incidences in the African American community. These are others to be concerned about:

  • Sickle Cell Anemia—African Americans have a 1 in 12 chance of suffering from this genetic disorder which is incurable with a life expectancy in the 50s for those with this disorder. However, the side effects and complications can be relieved with medicines and most importantly proper diet, nutrition and exercise. Each patient has different symptoms and a simple blood test can detect this blood disorder where the red cells are sickle or c-shaped and don’t move through the blood efficiently.
  • Asthma—African Americans are more frequently hospitalized for asthma attacks than any other race. More than 33% of those hospitalized are children. African American children whose parents smoke are at the highest risk pool of all demographic groups for contracting asthma and early death. Dr. Fowler strongly recommends implementation of smoke-free environments and careful screening of household products and furnishings for offending air toxins and dust.
  • Hepatitis C—More prevalent in the African American population and can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer which is a killer. The danger is that an infected person may not have symptoms and, frequently, liver protein tests are normal. One preventive measure Dr Fowler recommends is that people who frequent nail salons bring their own manicure tools with them and that the salon follows strict health and safety guidelines.
  • Depression—African Americans have a high incidence of depression which can lead to suicide. Many people never discuss mental health with their physicians. Dr. Fowler recommends talking with your doctor about everything that is ailing you--both physically and mentally. Depression is treatable with medications such as anti-depressants as well as psychoanalysis.

Dr. Reginald Fowler is available for interviews.

About Reginald S. Fowler, M.D.
Dr. Reginald Fowler is an MDVIP affiliated primary care physician based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and is affiliated with Emory University’s Crawford W. Long Hospital and one of Atlanta’s largest hospitals, Piedmont Hospital. He is Clinical Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Morehouse Medical School. He earned his medical degree at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, and received his undergraduate degree from Brown University. He completed his internship and residency at Emory University Affiliated Hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Fowler is a fellow in the American Academy of Disability Evaluating Physicians. In addition, he has served on a number of advisory boards and professional organizations, including the Multicultural National Advisor Board, Glaxo Pharmaceuticals, and Trinity Warriors Youth Association. He is currently a member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta.

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