Black men, guard your hearts

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by Larry Lucas

(NNPA) – They say in life that it’s the small things that mean the most: making a friend laugh, seeing a child’s first steps or spending quality time with loved ones. The same is true for your health. Making the right “small” choices can have a big impact. But we tend to underestimate these “small” things when it comes to our personal health – like choosing water instead of soda to drink. This can be especially dangerous for men in our community who are at a higher risk for chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.

I’ve lived with high blood pressure for more than 20 years, but I help keep my heart healthy by trying to make the right small choices, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, visiting my doctor for regular check-ups, choosing an apple instead of a cookie and taking my medicines as prescribed. It might not seem like it in the moment of decision, but making the right small choices can add up to a big impact in curbing the risk of heart disease and stroke and allowing you to live a longer, healthier life.

These small steps are particularly vital for African-Americans – consider that men in our community are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than our White male counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity and high blood pressure play a big role in contributing to our poor heart health. African-Americans are nearly two times more likely to have high blood pressure than other groups, and African-American men specifically are 5 percent more likely to be obese, according to the CDC.

Not taking care of your heart can lead to more than heart attacks; it can also lead to stroke.  According to the Mayo Clinic, stroke is one of the leading – yet preventable – threats to men’s health and, if not treated immediately, can cause blindness, paralysis, memory loss and even death. It’s important to pay attention to the symptoms and get help immediately if you experience numbness on one side of your body or have trouble seeing, walking or speaking.

Men sometimes get a bad rap for treating their cars better than their bodies – not doing routine maintenance and only addressing a problem when it’s a major one. I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of this, too, but this can be a dangerous way to live. Regular check-ups can help catch the causes of stroke – such as high blood pressure – before it’s too late, and detect other diseases like cancer while they are in the early stages and easier to treat.

It’s important that we make time to do the small things in order to prevent bigger problems from affecting our health – including taking medicines as your doctor prescribes them, without skipping doses or forgetting about refills. For patients who need help accessing their prescription medicines to manage chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) is available to help. For five years, PPA has helped connect 6.5 million patients in need to programs that provide either free or nearly free medicines. For more information, patients can call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit http://www.pparx.org.

Larry Lucas is a vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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