Black men’s health issues come to the forefront when confronted by tragic deaths of celebrities, sport heroes or national figures. Michael Jackson’s sudden death stirred much debate and finger pointing, but no real solutions. When young Black athletes collapse suddenly from pre-existing and undetected medical problems, the discussion on Black men’s health resurfaces, but, again, it is a mere ripple on the societal pond.

The reality is that life-expectancy among African American men is about 10 years less than their White counterparts. This is also highlighted by the disproportionately higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer deaths in African American men. The reasons for these observations are unclear, but certainly there are a multitude of factors to consider including poor access to care, genetic factors, socioeconomic stressors, and lack of culturally sensitive and effective outreach to target this population.

There is another quiet epidemic among African American men that is rising in deadly prominence – kidney disease. According to the U.S. Renal Data System, approximately 20 million Americans have kidney disease. The number of people diagnosed with it has doubled each decade for the last two decades. The fact is that kidney disease is not only a large concern in the African American community, but it has also become a worldwide public health problem.

Diabetes and hypertension are the leading cause of kidney disease among African American males. Hypertension and diabetes account for 54 percent of all cases of kidney disease that require dialysis or kidney transplantation. The presence of kidney disease imparts significant risk for heart disease and stroke. Therefore, the presence of kidney disease and other risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension can result in a significant risk of death. The good news is that kidney disease can be prevented with routine medical visits with simple urine and blood screening test.

Once kidney disease is detected, the progression can be slowed considerably with certain medications to achieve good blood pressure and cholesterol control. Also if one has diabetes, there are research studies to suggest that good blood sugar control may protect the kidneys from the negative effects of diabetes. Research has also shown that controlling high blood pressure can help reduce the incidence and prevalence of kidney disease. Black men who like most Blacks are profoundly susceptible to hypertension related kidney disease.

Data from many studies confirm that high blood pressure, or hypertension, can negatively impact kidney function. African Americans, especially African American men, progress to kidney failure at much higher rates than their White counterparts, even with similarly controlled blood pressure. “It is important for Black men to identify their high blood pressure early and initiate aggressive blood pressure control. Treating high blood pressure aggressively can slow the progression of kidney disease. Certain medications may offer better protection and which ones should be discussed with your physician,” comments noted nephrologist Dr. David Scott.

The clear message here is that kidney disease affects African American men at a disproportionately higher rate and controlling risk factors for kidney disease such as hypertension and diabetes offers a clear opportunity to control the growth of kidney disease in the African American community. According to Dr. Scott, in this age of state of the art technology and medical breakthroughs, there are some very basic activities that Black men can incorporate in their lifestyles to offset the growing rate of kidney disease in their communities:

Schedule annual physical examinations.
Regular screening for diabetes.
Regular screening for high blood pressure.
Annual urine testing to evaluate for protein in the urine.
If there is protein in the urine ask your physician about medications that can be used to reduce protein in the urine.
If diabetic, ask your physician what healthy blood sugar level should be targeted with treatment.
If high blood pressure is diagnosed initiate treatment early with appropriate medications.
Avoid potential harmful over the counter medications.
Lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes and possibly medications.
If obese or overweight, seek counseling with a dietician/nutritionist to promote weight loss.
Regular exercise program.
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