Common Hispanic Health Issues
Cuidando a Si Mismo (Caring for Yourself)
Because of genetics and environment, each unique ethnic group in the United States is at an increased risk for developing certain conditions. It’s important to recognize your risks so you can seek proper diagnosis and treatment.
Several health issues are more prevalent in Hispanic people than the general population:
- Obesity. Hispanic Americans are 1.2 times as likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites. This is especially important because obesity can lead to other health challenges.
- Diabetes. About 40 percent of adults in the United States are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. However, more than 50 percent of Hispanics are expected to someday be diagnosed with it.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure). Nearly 1 in 4 Hispanics has high blood pressure, which can be a precursor to a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease or heart failure.
- Chronic kidney disease. Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have kidney failure compared to other Americans. In fact, 20 percent of people on the kidney transplant waiting list are Hispanic.
- Chronic liver disease. Hispanics are at higher risk for developing certain liver diseases. Although the exact cause is unknown, it can be a result of conditions such as chronic alcoholism, obesity and exposure to hepatitis B and C viruses.
- Cancer. Overall, cancer rates among Hispanics are generally lower. However, those who were born outside of the United States are at higher risk for specific cancers related to infections, such as stomach, liver or cervical cancer.
What Does This Mean?
Northwestern Medicine care teams are trained to treat patients who have diverse backgrounds and have developed culturally sensitive programs that tailor care to cultural preferences. There are also programs to address some of these high-risk areas.
The Hispanic Transplant program, the first comprehensive culturally and linguistically competent transplant programs in the country, is dedicated to serving Spanish-speaking patients who are in need of a transplant. The program is led by Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD, a transplant surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who decided to take proactive measures when he discovered the vast transplant needs among the Hispanic population.
“We have more than 20 bilingual and bicultural employees, including three surgeons and two hepatologists. Our program is successful because not only do we speak their language, it’s our language. Not only do we understand the culture, it’s our culture too,” says Dr. Caicedo. Because of the ease of communication, the program has increased Hispanic patients' and family members' knowledge and resulted in improved attitudes about kidney transplantation and living kidney donation. Dr. Caicedo adds, “This opportunity to converse in their native language not only seeks to serve the patients, but help put their families at ease, which leads to better patient outcomes.”
Since the implementation of the program, there has been significant growth in the Hispanic kidney waitlist and living donor kidney transplants at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “By increasing waitlist additions for Hispanic kidney recipients by 91 percent and by increasing the number of living donor kidney transplantation in Hispanics by 74 percent, we are able to provide access to transplant to those who are underserved and, as a result, decrease disparity for Hispanics,” says Dr. Caicedo. “We are observing similar findings for the liver transplant waitlist as well.”
These types of programs are particularly important as the Hispanic population continues to be among the fastest growing. Consult your physician to better understand how your ethnicity impacts your health risks and what preventive measures are best for you.
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