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April is National Minority Health Month

diabetes 600(PRNewswire) – April is National Minority Health Month, which provides a platform from which to pitch the message that some minorities have higher incidences of serious chronic diseases than the U.S. population at large, making regular check-ups and good health management for these groups critical.

In particular, high blood pressure or hypertension, kidney disease and diabetes strike larger segments of certain minorities than of the general population, according to Ronald Charles, M.D., vice president of medical affairs for Buckeye Community Health Plan (BCHP) BCHP. The 2010 U.S. Census indicates that approximately 36 percent of the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group.

"Studies show that lack of access to health care, poverty, and cultural attitudes and behaviors are barriers to preventive care and disease management for some minority Americans," Dr. Charles said.

"It is extremely important that members of minorities understand the risk factors, causes and ways to prevent these illnesses."

Charles points to the 2013 release of "Preventing Chronic Disease," which reported that minorities, particularly African Americans, have high rates of hospitalizations due to hypertension. The research showed that the large gap in rates between races has been found across multiple states. Researchers believe that early access to good-quality health care could help prevent these high rates of hospitalization.

African-American women had significantly higher rates of hospitalizations for high blood pressure than did white women. Among women aged 18 to 44 in 2007-10, whites had a hospitalization rate of 24 per 100,000 population, while the rate for African Americans was 128 per 100,000 population. African-American men overall had significantly higher rates of hospitalizations for high blood pressure than did white men, a pattern similar to that seen in women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) projects that about 68 million people in the U.S. are living with high blood pressure. The good news is that it can be prevented and controlled. The bad news is that less than half of the population with high blood pressure actually has it under control.

"High blood pressure is a serious health concern because it can lead to heart attack and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States," said Charles. "High blood pressure is also a major risk factor for other diseases such as congestive heart failure and kidney disease."

Charles said expanding primary prevention and early diagnosis of high blood pressure and improving high blood pressure treatment among minority populations could help prevent the high rates of hospitalizations, especially among African Americans.

"It's important to check your blood pressure regularly and to take steps to maintain normal blood pressure or lower blood pressure if it reaches unsafe levels," he said.

A serious condition often, but not always, connected to hypertension is diabetes. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition, gestational diabetes among pregnant women occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and American Indians than in other groups, the CDC reports.

Diabetes can run in families, meaning that heredity often makes someone more likely to develop diabetes. According to the CDC, researchers believe that certain genes affecting immune response can play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, while genes affecting insulin function can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. While African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans have a slightly lower rate of type 1 diabetes, they are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes than the rest of the population.

Another serious health problem affecting minorities is chronic kidney disease (CKD), which can progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. According to the National Kidney Foundation, CKD affects nearly 20 million Americans and is reaching epidemic proportions. The rates are even higher among racial and ethnic minorities.

"Minorities in the United States are almost two to four times more likely than non-minorities to reach ESRD. The main causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which are more common among minorities," Charles said.

Even with the same medical care as the general population, minorities seem more likely to get kidney disease. Many factors may add to the chance of getting kidney disease, including hereditary or genetic factors, the environment or how well diabetes and high blood pressure are controlled. CKD, diabetes and high blood pressure can cause many problems, including disability, high healthcare costs and poor quality of life.

"Many forms of kidney disease can be treated successfully," said Charles. "Careful control of diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure can help prevent kidney disease or keep it from getting worse, and kidney stones and urinary tract infections can usually be treated successfully."

Annual routine physician check-ups, said Charles, are an important factor in maintaining good health and preventing serious, chronic disease among minorities.

"The connections among hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease are many, and it is critical for at-risk populations to understand how to prevent and treat these conditions."

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