The Hispanic community is one of the fastest growing and most influential groups in the United States, currently representing around 18 percent of the U.S. population. Research shows there is a high prevalence of chronic illnesses, certain infections and negative health outcomes among Latinos.
Prevention is the best way to reduce your risk of illness or disease, but because of cultural beliefs and socioeconomic obstacles, Latinas often are less likely to have access to preventive medicine and do not have regular screenings for cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.
As a Latin woman, I want to share with you important facts so you can take steps to prevent and/or minimize your personal risk of developing a chronic illness or disease.
Latin women are strong, hard-working and caring. I’m sure, like me, you grew up surrounded by them, and you have become one of these women who usually llevan las riendas de su casa. My words here are an invitation for you to take action and become more involved in improving and maintaining your health, as the empowered Latina that you are!
Let’s Start with Pap Smears
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and also highly treatable if detected early, before it has spread beyond the cervix. Yet, according to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, Hispanic women are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 30 percent more likely to die from it than non-Hispanic white women.
There is a common myth among many young Latina women that you do not need to visit an OB/GYN unless you are sexually active. This is FALSE. You should make an appointment to have your first Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer by no later than age 21, even if you have never been sexually active. Most women should have this test regularly until they are at least 65. Your doctor will let you know what is best for you.
Let’s Talk About HPV
Your OB/GYN will also screen you for genital human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found that 13 types of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and at least one of these types can cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (the back of the throat, base of the tongue and the tonsils).
If you have not had the HPV vaccine when you were a teenager, discuss this important preventive step with your OB/GYN. The HPV vaccine is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for adults, both women and men, up to age 45.
Your Annual Gynecology Visit
During your annual exam, your doctor will also offer screenings for other sexually transmitted diseases and discuss your reproductive health. This is crucial for Latinas because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Hispanic women is twice the rate of non-Hispanic white women of the same age. Although teen births are decreasing every year, the CDC notes that the birth rate for Hispanic teens is twice that of non-Hispanic white women.
Preparing for Baby
It is best to plan ahead if you are thinking about having a baby. There are steps you can take to increase your ability to have a healthy pregnancy, with a happy, safe outcome.
Start with a visit to your OB/GYN for a complete physical exam to look for the presence of any infections that might require treatment, to determine if your weight is ideal or if you need to lose some pounds, to identify any blood pressure issues, and to review any medications you might be taking that could have a harmful effect on your baby. Your doctor will also identify any vaccinations you might need before becoming pregnant and if you would benefit from a genetic screening. He/she will also prescribe taking folic acid tablets, which prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Prenatal Care Reduces Risks
Regular medical care during your pregnancy will help to reduce your risk of having a preterm baby or one that has a low birthweight. Prenatal care can also help you to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or other pregnancy-related issues.
Here at Holy Name and within our Holy Name Medical Partners network, we have Spanish-speaking providers, including Latino doctors and nurse practitioners, who are eager to take care of you! Please read below for information about our insurance counselors if you do not have medical insurance or are underinsured.*
Preventing Chronic Illnesses
Your annual OB/GYN visit also offers an opportunity for you to discuss preventing chronic illnesses with your doctor. Genetics and environmental influences often result in obesity, diabetes and hypertension in Hispanics, both men and women.
Obesity can be the cause of many gynecologic complaints, including irregular menstrual periods, heavy vaginal bleeding and fertility problems. Obesity can also put you at higher risk of uterine cancer. The good news is that a modest weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can markedly improve your ovulatory cycles, decrease blood sugar levels, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly are the most effective preventive steps you can take toward warding off chronic illnesses. A healthy lifestyle does not mean saying goodbye to your favorite rice with beans, los maduros y las empanadas. The key is balancing what you put into your body with what you do with that energy.
As busy as you might be with work, school, children, your partner and other family and friends, try to save 30 to 60 minutes daily for YOU – when you can run, dance, swim, go to a gym, and get your heart pumping. Exercise will have a long-lasting positive effect on your overall physical and mental health.
Let's work together to create healthy lifestyles for ourselves and to raise future generations of strong, healthy Latina women!
If you do not have medical insurance or your insurance does not cover all the costs of pregnancy care, childbirth and other medical issues, there are federal and state sources of financial assistance that may be available to you if you qualify. Our Holy Name insurance counselors provide free, unbiased assistance to help you understand what options are available for obtaining health insurance coverage. To speak with a counselor or to make an appointment: call 201-379-5725 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or email email@example.com.
Tamara Aviles, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist who cares for women of all ages. She has a special interest in preventive health and speaks English, Spanish and German. She is trained in advanced diagnostic and treatment methods for gynecologic conditions, including minimally invasive surgical techniques. She focuses on each woman’s unique health concerns, to create a pregnancy plan or treatment plan that ensures her patients participate in decision-making. Dr. Aviles had conducted various research studies and has been published in peer-reviewed journals. She sees patients at her office at 419 66th Street in West New York, NJ. To schedule an appointment with her: 201-861-9229 or HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.