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We asked a team of top African-American physicians what black women may overlook in their healthcare.
Jeanine Downie, MD, dermatologist and coauthor of Beautiful Skin of Color
"African-American women—and all my patients of color—must wear sunblock. We get skin cancer, too, including melanoma. Every day, rain or shine, January through December, women should be putting on sunscreen with SPF 30 on any exposed skin, from their hairline down to their chest, behind their ears, on the backs of their hands, and on their lips. It rubs off, so reapply; put it on first thing in the morning and again when you go out for lunch. And then make sure to get a total body skin exam once a year by a board-certified dermatologist."
Janet Taylor, MD, clinical instructor of psychiatry at Columbia University–Harlem Hospital
"We tend to underestimate the role of chronic stress in our lives. A lot of us are raising families on our own, and even if we're married, we're still the caretakers. So I talk to African-American women about chronic stress. A little stress can keep you going through your day; you complete a task and stress levels return to normal. But with chronic stress, you need tools to bring your body back to recovery. When your body feels tense or you have a headache, try taking ten deep breaths through your nose. Make sure to get seven to nine hours of sleep. Identify the outside forces that may be causing you stress, and see about eliminating the ones you can. Learn to say no. I tell my patients no is a complete sentence."
La Tanya Hines, MD, ob-gyn and president of the Association of Black Women Physicians
"Many of my patients aren't aware that African-American women are more susceptible to bacterial vaginosis [BV], which may be because they tend to have a higher vaginal pH. This is a big deal because BV is associated with increased risk of preterm delivery as well as an increased risk of cervicitis, an inflammation of the cervix, which can then raise the risk for chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and, most important, HIV. If a woman has vaginal discharge associated with a fishy or musty odor, she should see a doctor."
Lynne Perry-Bottinger, MD, an interventional cardiologist at New York–Presbyterian Hospital
"Most African-American women still don't realize that heart disease is their greatest risk for death. So they must pay attention to their weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Fifty percent of African-American women are obese. So know your numbers; women should have a waist size of 35 inches or less or a BMI of 19 to 25. We should all be eating a diet high in complex carbs and low in sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. Colorful fruits and vegetables should be a staple. And try to exercise at least 30 minutes, three to seven times a week."