*Health indicators consistently confirm that African Americans suffer disproportionately from leading diseases, as well as die earlier. In light of this, it is especially important for African Americans to get accustomed to having regular screenings and exams. In doing so, many conditions could be at the least caught earlier, and at best prevented.
Towards this end, it is especially important that African Americans undergo routine medical screening tests.
These tests should be routinely performed; others may be necessary if recommended by your physician or if your medical history dictates:
- Complete physical. For starters, we should be clear that a complete physical is the central aspect of all other routine screenings and exams these are recommended every five years before age forty; every two years between ages forty and sixty, and annually thereafter.
- Blood pressure measurement. High blood pressure (hypertension) is often called a silent killer because you can have it for years without knowing it. High blood pressure occurs far more frequently in blacks than in any other racial group in the United States. High blood pressure in blacks generally develops at an earlier age than it does in whites. Plus, it’s more likely to lead to serious complications such as stroke or heart attack. Blood pressure is taken as part of a routine physical exam. Between physicals, you may want to test your blood pressure yourself. Many pharmacies and grocery stores have machines available for public use; stop in at least twice a year and have your blood pressure checked.
- Breast exam (women). African-American have the highest death rate from breast cancer and are more likely to be diagnosed with a later stage of breast cancer than White women. The most effective way to fight breast cancer is to detect it early. Although the most popularly used tools to detect breast cancer are mammography and other clinical breast screenings by your health professional, the breast self-exam may also be an effective tool to find cancer early. In fact, women who perform regular breast self-exam find 90% of all breast masses.
- Cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are measured by taking a small sample of blood from your finger or your arm and are measured as milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. You may want to ask your doctor if you need to fast before your test. Inflammation (swelling) of the arteries is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. To see if your arteries are inflamed as a result of atherosclerosis, doctors can test your blood for C-reactive protein (CRP). The body produces CRP during the general process of inflammation. Therefore, CRP is a “marker” for inflammation, meaning its presence indicates an increased state of inflammation in the body. CRP is measured with a simple blood test, which can be done at the same time your cholesterol is checked. Begin testing at adolescence. Test every five years, or more often if you have a history of atherosclerosis or coronary disease. You should look for your total cholesterol levels as well as your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels.
- Dental exam and tooth cleaning. We are seeing more and more the connection between your dental health and your overall health. Diabetes and heart disease in particular have a direct connection. Visit your dentist every six months; more often if periodontal disease is present
- Eye examination. Glaucoma is the common name of a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, causing blind spots in the victim’s visual field. These blind spots usually start in the peripheral vision, but can spread and eventually cause complete blindness in one or both eyes. The American Diabetes Association strongly recommends that all patients with diabetes have annual eye exams. Every one to two years.
- Prostate exam (men). Annually at age forty and above; annually after age thirty-five if there is a family history of the disease. We rely on both a physical exam and the prostate-specific antigen test, which can detect prostate cancer early. The PSA test can provide helpful information, but it is not a substitute for a physical exam. A PSA level of 4.0 ng/ml or less is usually considered normal. However, if the amount of PSA in your blood is higher than normal, it does not necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer. Several less serious conditions can also cause PSA levels to rise above 4.0. Up to 20% of men with prostate cancer will have a normal PSA level.
- Rectal exam/digital. The digital rectal exam is an important screening test for the detection of tumors of the rectum and prostate abnormalities, including benign enlargement of the prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and cancer of the prostate Consider having one annually after age thirty-five.
- Sigmoidoscopy. This test is commonly used to screen for colorectal cancer and polyps. You should have one every three to five years after age forty.
- Skin exam. Both African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more symptoms at diagnosis (including kidney problems. Once a month, using a mirror or asking a friend for help, check every square inch of your skin for abnormalities, including moles, rashes, or scaling. Annually, have a primary care physician or dermatologist perform a skin check, starting at age forty, or earlier if you have a lot of sun-related skin damage.
Of course, there are many other periodic exams and screenings; these just happen to be some of the ones considered most important for African Americans.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended, nor implied, to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
Glenn Ellis, author of Which Doctor?, is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics. His second book, Information is the Best Medicine, was released in January 2012.
For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com