From the contentious election to natural disasters to the onslaught of violence experienced in our community, most of us are grateful just to have made it through 2016. Interestingly enough, though, one of the biggest threats to the livelihood of our people went largely unnoticed, save for a spate of celebrity deaths. This is the menace known as diabetes.
Several beloved entertainers and public figures fell victim to this disease and its complications, including veteran actors Justice Esiri, Sam Loco-Efe, Muna Obikwe International acts gospel icon Pastor Daryl Coley, hip-hop pioneer Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and Prince Be of the R&B group P.M. Dawn. Former Yo! MTV Raps star Dr. Dre revealed that he is now blind as a result of diabetes. And those were just the cases that made the news; many of us know important people in our own lives who have also been affected by this scourge.
Diabetes is generally broken down into two forms, the less common Type 1 and the more predominant form, Type 2. In both cases, it results from either too little insulin being produced or the inability to properly use the insulin that is circulating through the body. The danger with both forms exists when they go undiagnosed, untreated or are poorly controlled and the body’s blood sugars remain at high levels. This can lead to complications such as heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, chronic infections, kidney disease, blindness, amputations and death.
Part of the threat is that the condition will oftentimes develop gradually with few symptoms. The more noticeable signs include fatigue, increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss and blurry vision. Because these markers are often vague and seemingly unrelated, they may go unchecked for many months or years. Nerve and blood vessel damage from untreated diabetes can also impede sexual performance. Men may experience erectile dysfunction as a symptom of uncontrolled blood sugars; this will often prompt them to visit the doctor, only to find that diabetes is the root of the issue.
The good news is that most cases of diabetes are not only preventable but treatable. Yet the devastation in our community continues. We simply aren’t going to the doctor enough. There are certainly a select few who are proactive and visit their doctors regularly. These people will likely be the ones to catch the onset of chronic disease before complications develop. However, the overwhelming majority of us wait until symptoms are long-standing, uncomfortable or inconvenient. The problem is that this occurs once chronic disease is advanced and complications are numerous.
Controlling the effects of diabetes includes prevention, early detection and management. Preventing the disease means decreasing the risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and diets high in fat and processed foods. Early detection involves taking the initiative to go to the doctor. It also means encouraging one another to go to a physician. If detected early and treated, complications can oftentimes be avoided. Managing diabetes with diet, exercise, a healthy lifestyle and medications when needed is the secret to living a long and productive life. Let’s start 2017 strong and determined to show that our Health Matters.
A Black Man’s Guide to Good Health
A checklist of things for Black men to screen for by age
Brothers, be honest. Do you go to the doctor regularly? You take care of your family; you take care of work matters, but what about yourself?
“Men aren’t judged by whether they are healthy; they are judged by whether they contribute financially to their households, pay child support and are active participants in their families and communities,” says Derek M. Griffith, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and health at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Research on Men’s Health. If they can do those things, they are unlikely to see a reason to go to a doctor, Griffith says. But, Black men need to see a physician, regardless of whether they are feeling under the weather, he adds. “It is critical to try and develop a relationship with a doctor’s office or clinic because many health issues that are important can only be detected by looking at changes in health over time.”
Maybe these stats will convince you to make your health a priority:
• African-American men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than White males
• 36 percent of Black men are obese
• 3.7 million of all African-Americans 20 or older have diabetes
Ready to make that appointment now? Here are the important screenings you should have based on your age:
Weight and body mass index (BMI)
How often: Annually
Why it’s important: Approximately 2 of 3 adults are now overweight or obese, which can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments, according to the American Heart Association. Just because you’re in the gym regularly doesn’t mean you’re at a healthy weight or BMI (which is 18.5 to 24.9). “The misconception that many Black men have is that because they exercise and have muscles they don’t need to worry about their weight. That’s not true.
You still need to make sure you maintain a normal weight,” says Ola Akinboboye, M.D., medical director at Queens Heart Institute in Rosedale, N.Y. and an associate professor of clinical medicine at Cornell University.
How often: At each doctor’s visit, but if your readings are high—between 120 and 139 for the top (systolic) number or between 80 and 89 for the bottom (diastolic) number—or if you have diabetes, heart disease or kidney problems, your physician will most likely monitor your blood pressure more often.
Why it’s important: 40 percent of Blacks have high blood pressure, which also is known as the “silent killer” and can lead to heart disease and stroke. Having your pressure checked regularly is imperative. “High blood pressure is more prevalent in Black men than in Black women,” says Akinboboye.
How often: You should be screened for syphilis, chlamydia, HIV as well as other STDs annually, depending on your lifestyle. Also, it’s recommended that you have your testicles examined for testicular cancer during your periodic medical exams.
Why it’s important: Doctors may also screen your testosterone levels. If you are trying to start a family and having trouble, a male infertility test may be recommended to examine your sperm and seminal fluid.
How often: Every four to six years, unless you’re at risk for heart disease and stroke and your doctor thinks you should be tested more frequently.
Why it’s important: High cholesterol increases your chances of heart disease, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.
How often: Guidelines recommend Black men start getting screened at 45 or as early as 40, either by rectal exams, fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, especially if there is a family history of colon cancer, and then every three to five years.
Why it’s important: According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer among African-Americans. Death rates are 52 percent higher in Black men than White men.
How often: Have this simple test every three years after age 45, but if you are overweight, your blood pressure is above 135/80 or you have a family history of diabetes, ask your doctor if you should be screened earlier.
Why it’s important: The American Diabetes Association says African-Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than Whites. If you have high blood glucose levels, you’re at a greater risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke.
How often: The ACS recommends men get screened at 50, but because Black men are at a higher risk, they should get tested at 45 (especially if there’s a family history) with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, along with a digital rectal exam. Depending on the results, men should be retested annually or biannually.
Why it’s important: According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than White men and are nearly 2.4 times as likely to die from the disease.
How often: If you’re over 70 and have symptoms of heart disease, get one annually.
Why it’s important: An ECG is a simple, noninvasive test that measures electrical activity from the heart and can predict coronary heart disease. “It allows you to see things that suggest the presence of heart disease, such as an enlarged heart, evidence of clogged arteries, or electrical problems in the heart that can forewarn a heart attack,” explains Akinboboye.
How often: Every year to two years after 70
Why it’s important: The painless test helps estimate the density of your bones and your chances of breakage. It also can diagnose osteoporosis before a fractured bone occurs.
How often: The ACS suggests annual screenings (with a low-dose computed tomography, or CT) if you are or were (within the past 15 years) a heavy smoker.
Why it’s important: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in African-Americans, and Black men have a higher rate than White men. The ACS reports that when detected at a localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate among Blacks for lung cancer is 47 percent.