Did you know that some diseases affect black people more than other races? In this article, we’ll show you six of them, breaking down why black people are affected more, and what you can do to reduce your risk.
Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is most common among people whose ancestors originally came from Africa, though people from other regions such as Asia and the Mediterranean also are susceptible. The CDC reports that this disease actually occurs most among people whose ancestors are from a part of the world where malaria was common, and it thought that people with the sickle cell trait are protected from severe forms of malaria. It is estimated that Sickle Cell Disorder affects around 100,000 Americans.
SCD is a red blood cell disorder that is inherited genetically. In this disease, red blood cells that are normally round become hard and formed like the letter C. These cells die earlier than healthy cells would, which means the person suffering has a shortage of red blood cells all the time. Their unusual shape can also cause them to get stuck as they travel through smaller blood vessels in the body.
To inherit SCD, both parents had to have had the sickle cell trait, or sickle cell disease themselves.
Symptoms and complications can include:
- Swelling in the hands and feet where the sickle cells are stuck in the smaller blood vessels
- Problems with the spleen
- Vision loss
- Leg ulcers
Most treatments for SCD are focused on treating the symptoms. The only cure for SCD is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, but this is very risky and can even cause death. This option is only usually pursued in cases of severe SCD.
To find out the risks of any future children having SCD, get yourself and your partner tested for sickle cell trait. If you are both carriers of the sickle cell trait:
- There is a 25% chance the baby will have SCD
- There is 50% chance the baby will have sickle cell trait
- There is 25% that the red blood cells of the baby will be normal
WebMD reports that black Americans are 60% more likely to have diabetes than white Americans, and the complications are often worse (side note, we mention ‘WebMD Reports’ a few more times in this article, and we’re refering to the link in this sentence). African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to have to get a limb amputated, and up to 5.5 times more likely to get kidney disease. The outcomes are especially bad for African American women, who were 2.4 times more likely to suffer from diabetes than their white counterparts.
Linda Kao – who ran a study with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – says a number of factors are involved in this. One of the major ones was weight. She says that one of the most important findings in their study was that 50% of the extra risk African American women carried was due to having excess fat.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t use or make insulin properly, the hormone which regulates blood sugar levels.
The NIDDK has a huge list of 50 ways you can prevent diabetes. Check it out here.
Hypertension/High Blood Pressure
WebMD reports that black people often develop hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, earlier in life. 42% of black men and 45% of black women over 20 have high blood pressure.
Researchers are not fully sure why African Americans suffer with hypertension more than other races, but some factors include:
- Genetic factors – black people in the US seem to be more sensitive to salt than other races, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure
- Environmental factors – black people worldwide have about the same rates of high blood pressure as U.S. whites. But in the U.S., African Americans have much higher rates. This is thought to stem from economic inequality and discrimination which affect health outcomes.
To reduce your risks of high blood pressure, you can:
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Reduce salt and fat in your diet
- Increase your intake of potassium in your diet
- Exercise more
- Give up smoking