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Real Life Stories
By: Ruby Campbell
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This fact sheet touches on a few of the diseases and conditions that adversely affect women of colour. DivaScribe aims to equip women with knowledge in order to aid prevention and make treatment possible.

  Fast  Facts:


  • Women account for over 50% of the population in the world.
  • Women make 3/4 of health and household decisions in most families.
  • Women make the most visits to the doctors/physicians and more than 70% off nursing home residents are women.

  1. Cardiovascular disease (heart diseases): According to a research conducted by the Association of Black Cardiologists in America, it is a common killer amongst women of colour and triggered when the blood supply to the heart is partially or wholly blocked. The blockage is often caused by the build-up of fatty deposits inside the lining of the coronary artery. If blood supply to the heart is disrupted long enough to cause damage, this could lead to a heart attack - medically known as Myocardial Infarction. There is a high mortality rate amongst women of colour because we exhibit the usual lifestyle risk factors, such as regularly eating fried foods, smoking, hypertension, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, and so on. Small changes to lifestyle and diet can help keep heart diseases at bay.
  2. Rheumatoid disease (arthritis): It is a common condition that causes inflammation of the bones and joints. There are over 200 varieties of rheumatoid diseases, the most common is osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is the third most common chronic condition amongst women of colour [a well-known cause is limited activity] and the most debilitating. Often commonly associated with the elderly, it can sometimes affect children. There is no cure for arthritis, but there are a range of treatments that can help slow down the progress of the condition. Medication can help relieve the symptoms, and in severe cases, surgery may be required. When it comes to natural treatment, it is important to separate fact from folklore. There are supplements available which if the guidelines are followed rigidly, may help alleviate symptoms.
  3. Autoimmune disease (lupus): Few people have heard of lupus, but worldwide it's seen as more common than leukaemia, multiple sclerosis (MS), and muscular dystrophy. 90% of the diagnostics made each year are female, the ratio of women to men [who are affected] is 9:1. Men and young people can also be affected. Lupus is an autoimmune disease; it attacks the immune system by creating antibodies, which, instead of protecting the body from virus and bacteria, attacks the body's tissues. Symptoms can include: joint and muscle ache, extreme fatigue, anaemia, and the destruction of vital organs. The disease can mask itself for years by displaying symptoms associated with other conditions such as Multiple sclerosis (MS) and arthritis, making it difficult to diagnose. Lupus is neither infectious nor contagious, and it has no cure. Medications are widely used to alleviate its symptoms, however, lifestyle changes such as immunization, regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and quitting smoking has been proven to help fight the disease and provide an improved sense of well-being.
  4. Diabetes:This is a condition that is characterised by high blood sugar levels-as a result of defects in the production of insulin by the body. Insulin helps the body absorb and regulate glucose levels. When this natural process is interrupted, the excess glucose is excreted in urine. Medical research has shown that 15% of coloured women have diabetes compared to 6.9% of white women. Type 2 diabetes is more common with coloured women, and according to the latest research conducted in the "Nutrition Bulletin": our diets are too high in saturated fat, salt, high levels of alcohol, low in fibre, not enough consumption of oily fish, fruit and vegetables.
  5. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV/AIDS): The virus attacks the immune system. A healthy immune system provides a natural defence against diseases. When the body becomes infected, the virus destroys the healthy cells (CD4) that help fight infection, thus making the individual susceptible to infections and diseases. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a term used to describe the later stages of HIV, when the immune system stops working and the person develops life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia. Women are more likely to get HIV due to biological makeup, as their sex organs are more exposed than the male genitals. There are higher levels of HIV in semen than the vagina, more semen is exchanged during sex than vaginal fluids, and women have more untreated STDs than men. On average, women, especially younger women, are more at risk of getting HIV/AIDS, mainly because they are more likely to have a hard time talking to their partners about safe sex, as well as other cultural and economic issues.
  6. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): These are infections that are transmitted during any type of sexual exposure including: intercourse (vaginal or anal), oral and also sharing of sex toys such as vibrators and so on. The World Health Organisation (WHO) report on STD in 2001 estimates new diagnosis to be 340 million worldwide. In the UK, more than 300,000 STD cases are diagnosed each year, women account for half of these new cases. This is mainly because women are more susceptible due to biological makeup and are less likely to suffer from any symptoms. There may also be the issue of trust-women are more trusting of their partners. Some of the common STDs prevalent in women of colour include: gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis c, herpes, and genital warts.
  7. Mental Health Issues (Depression): About 1 in 4 women suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Asian women have the highest depression and female suicide mortality rate amongst other ethnic minorities. Depression is usually not categorised as a disease/illness amongst people of colour. However, recent research has shown that depression is an illness that is growing quickly amongst people of colour. It is often associated with feelings of sadness that we all experience, but for someone who is clinically depressed - this could last for longer periods of time. It is worse for women of colour because admitting you need therapy is like admitting a weakness, so they delay seeking treatments which could have prevented more serious episodes from occurring. There are treatments available, such as counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
  8. Sickle Cell Anaemia: Most common amongst people of colour [both male and female], it is a genetic blood disorder that affects the red blood cells. When the red blood cells are affected, the abnormal type of cell (haemoglobin) multiplies. The cells become rigid and sickle-shaped. Due to the clumpy shape / appearance, smooth blood flow around the body and organs becomes restricted. People with sickle cell anaemia generally have a short life expectancy - the disease has no cure. However, there are treatments available for the complications of the disease such as excruciating joint pains that sufferers experience. Also bone marrow transplants are said to offer a cure in a small number of cases. As this condition is genetic and manifests itself in childhood, it is better that we check if we are carriers of the gene before having children. Recent research has shown that due to improvements in treatment and care, people with the condition are now living into their forties, fifties or longer.
  9. Osteoporosis: This is a condition where the bones become thin and brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures. The condition is more prevalent in women than men [1 in 2 women are at risk, unlike 1 in 5 men], most especially Asian women. It usually goes undiagnosed until a fracture happens. Symptoms include loss of height, broken hip, or crushed vertebrae. People who are potentially at high risk of getting osteoporosis include: women who have had early menopause, individuals with serious eating disorders - severe enough to stop their periods, individuals on steroids for more than 6 months, heavy smokers and drinkers. Treatment options for diagnosed cases include taking medications such as calcium and vitamin D supplements. There are also a variety of hormone treatments (HRT and SERMS). Blood tests are also available if you have had two or more of the symptoms-early detection of the condition could cut down the risk of disability.
  10. Stroke: A stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is altered or disturbed. It is a huge emergency when this happens, so help is needed fast, to give the individual a fair chance of survival.
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