Don’t always think the docs are testing you for everything. Here’s what to be vigilant about.
Because African-Americans suffer disproportionately from a slew of diseases, there are routine tests that we need to be on top off — our cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. In addition, depending on age and gender, we must also have a prostate exam, mammogram and cervical cancer screening at some point in our lives. But those are not the only tests that we need.
Here are four tests that you need to take.
HIV: We all know who bears the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. — Black people. One way to fight the epidemic is to make sure you know you status and get diagnosed early: The earlier the diagnosis, the better your health outcome.
So whether you get one at a free clinic using or during your next annual checkup, just make sure you get tested for HIV — and do it every year or after you each change sexual partners. For those who feel more comfortable with their general practitioner or OB/GYN testing you, please DO NOT assume that because they are taking your blood, they are testing you for HIV. State clearly, that you want an HIV test and DO NOT let them talk you out of getting tested.
STI: In 2009, African-Americans accounted for approximately half of all chlamydia (48 percent) and syphilis (52 percent) — and nearly three-quarters of gonorrhea (71 percent) — cases. Using condoms is key to reducing sexually transmitted infections, but so is getting tested and treated.
Existing untreated STIs weaken your immune system and can increase your chances of contracting HIV if you have been exposed to the virus. Not to mention, untreated STIs--depending on which one you may have — can lead to infertility, damage reproductive organs, cause blindness and hearing loss. And what’s scary about STIs is that in many people they have no symptoms — so you could be walking around with this disease unintentionally infecting other people.
Vitamin D: Did you know that Vitamin D can protect you from heart disease? Did you also know that 97 percent of all African Americans— including myself — suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency?
Given that we disproportionately develop heart disease, stroke and diabetes, correcting this deficiency is important. Just last week, a recent study found that African-Americans who increased their Vitamin D consumption by taking supplements, reduced their risk of developing heart disease.
It's also believed that low vitamin D levels play a role in why we develop more prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer and get more aggressive forms of those cancers. During your next physical, talk to your doctor about checking your levels.
Glaucoma: This eye disease is the number one cause of blindness in the African-American community and affects one million of us. And no, it's not just your grandma’s problem. Glaucoma — a disease that damages the optic nerve at the back of the eye — develops at an early age and in many cases has no warning signs. This is why early screening is important because it can ultimately save your eyesight.
The risk factors are being African-American, being over the age of 35, being very nearsighted, having a family member who suffers from the disease, being diabetic, being on steroid medication and having a past eye injury and/or eye surgery.
The next time you get a new prescription for glasses and contacts, tell your ophthalmologist that you want to be tested for glaucoma — regardless of age. And if you don't wear glasses or contacts, don't let that stop you from getting screened.