Health

A Black Man’s Guide to Good Health

A checklist of things for Black men to screen for by age

by Lashieka Hunter, October 18, 2016

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Health

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:

 

AGES 20-39

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.

Blood Pressure

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.

Sexual/Reproductive Health

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.

Cholesterol

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.

 

AGES 40-49

Colorectal Cancer

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.

Blood Glucose

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.

Prostate Cancer

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.

 

AFTER 50

Echocardiogram (ECG/EKG)

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.

Bone Density

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.

Lung Cancer

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.

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