YOUR SKIN: Don’t take moles or other new or unusual skin issues for granted. Skin diseases can be caught early if you pay attention. Contrary to popular belief, Blacks can develop melanoma, a potentially deadly skin cancer, but the signs can be overlooked. This is part of the reason malignant melanoma in Blacks results in lower survival after diagnosis.
YOUR VISION: Vision changes can sometimes signal conditions, such as diabetes, but your eye doctor can catch problems early and potentially save your vision. The American Optometric Association recommends biannual eye examinations for everyone between the ages of 18 and 60, annual exams for those over 60 and others with increased risk, such as hypertension, diabetes or a family history of eye diseases (i.e., glaucoma), those who wear contacts or who have had eye surgery.
YOUR TOBACCO USE: No amount of smoking is OK. Every organ in your body can be adversely affected by tobacco smoke. Regardless of whether you’ve tried in the past to stop smoking, talk to your doctor seriously about how you can reduce your risk for heart attacks, strokes, limb amputation and almost all forms of cancer by using different smoking-cessation tools. Give it your all this time.
YOUR DENTAL HEALTH: Take good care of your teeth by twice-daily brushings with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and limiting sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. The American Dental Association recommends regular visits to the dentist for professional cleanings and oral exams. Some of the most dangerous bacteria that can infect the heart come from the mouth. Poor oral hygiene can cause much more than bad breath.
YOUR SLEEPING HABITS: Poor sleep is often the result of high stress, sleep apnea, insomnia or simply not getting enough rest (most healthy adults need 7 or 8 hours) and can lead to depression, high blood pressure and fatigue. Discuss symptoms or snoring with your doctor; they may be signs of serious conditions.
YOUR DRINKING HABITS: Keeping tabs on your alcohol intake is another key to optimal health. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to hypertension, worsening diabetes, stroke and liver failure. Yet, consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink per day for women and two or less for men) has been shown to be protective against certain forms of heart disease. Make sure you discuss your alcohol consumption with your doctor.
YOUR DIET: What you eat and don’t eat have a large impact on every system in your body. Your doctor will encourage you to maintain a low-fat, high-fiber diet that is full of fruits and vegetables. Keeping your red meat consumption to a minimum and increasing your intake of fatty fish, such as salmon, as well as favoring unsaturated oils and fats can enhance skin and heart health. Also, keep your consumption of sugar and salt to a minimum.
YOUR PHYSICAL FITNESS: Your physician will counsel you on regular exercise as one of the best ways to stay out of his or her office. If you’re exercising for 30 minutes on most days in the week, you’re actively fighting almost every chronic disease imaginable.
YOUR SEXUAL HEALTH: Sexual dysfunction can be a sign of depression, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and is often caused by smoking. Dysfunction can also be psychological, especially in unhealthy and/or abusive relationships. Talk to your doctor about any changes in sexual function that are of concern.
YOUR IMMUN-IZATIONS: It’s recommended that adults have tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap) booster shots every 10 years. If you were born after 1957, discuss with your doctor the need for the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine as well as the Hepatitis B and pneumonia vaccines. Although there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, antiviral medications are available for treatment. Also recommended: the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) for anyone over 65 and those with asthma or cancer.
Read more in the May 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine.
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Special Contributing Health Editor, EBONY