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What makes or keeps us healthy often has nothing to do with what happens in our doctor's office or a hospital. Angila Griffin made this discovery a few months ago when a community health worker stopped by to check on her kids, who have asthma. Jean Figaro came armed with vinegar and baking soda. They're cleaning products, he explained.

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Sometimes, the simplest tools in medicine are the ones that give us the most useful information. Take the humble blood pressure machine, for example. It's been around for years, and it's cheap, compared with a lot of other medical devices. It's simple to use, and it doesn't require a medical or a nursing degree to operate. But the numbers it reports are valuable in helping predict a person's risk of a host of medical problems, including heart failure, stroke and kidney failure, and can help doctors determine whether a person really needs to take medicine to control his or her high blood pressure.

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A California HMO dramatically improves blood pressure control, Americans oppose Medicaid overhaul, and an update on kids' access to dental care, plus more from our Daily Briefing.

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The construction of a dam near an Indian reservation on the Missouri River forced residents to less fertile land and put an end to their farming habits. Since then, American Indians have experienced a lack of nutrition, leading to diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

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This story is Part 14 of a 15-part series that examines health care needs in Gary, Ind.

When Shantray Hooks, of Gary, lost her job as a restaurant cook in August, she didn’t know how she would pay for doctor visits.

“I had no health insurance and I couldn’t afford to pay a doctor,” said Hooks, 29, who was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago.

A doctor referred her to the Community Health Net of Gary, a federally qualified community health center that provides comprehensive primary care health services and charges on a sliding fee scale for services.

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This story is Part 11 of a 15-part series that examines health care needs in Gary, Ind.

Nearly 33 years after the federal government designated Gary a health professional shortage area and 17 years after federal health authorities qualified it as a medically underserved area, Gary continues to suffer from physician shortages.

Those shortages are partially to blame for the poor health status of many Gary citizens, according to local doctors and hospital officials.

Gary is home to disproportionately high numbers of severely ill patients suffering from multiple potentially life threatening conditions, including heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma.

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This story is Part 9 of a 15-part series that examines health care needs in Gary, Ind.

Dorothy Manley knew something was wrong nine years ago because whenever she ate sweets, she grew sleepy.

Manley, 77, of Gary, visited a local health fair and was advised to see her doctor.

“That’s when I found out I had diabetes,” said Manley, a former U.S. Postal Service supervisor who retired with 30 years of service in Chicago. The news frightened her because a former neighbor with uncontrollable diabetes lost an arm and both legs to amputation.

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During my reporting on organ donation for my fellowship project, one source’s quote stood out. “I’m a living example that organ donation works,” Vicky Mai Nguyen told me. She’s a 26-year-old woman who’s in good health and thriving. Had it not been for a liver transplant, she likely would never have made it to 2.

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This story is Part 8 of a 15-part series that examines health care needs in Gary, Ind.

Gary resident Teresa Johnson said she recognizes the woman in the “before” pictures and remembers her pain.

Johnson, 50, who worked with developmentally disabled adults in Lake and Porter counties before becoming disabled, said she has been overweight all her life.

“I had very little success losing weight on my own,” she said. “I’d lose weight and then gain it right back. But last year I needed a knee replacement surgery and didn’t want to have it while I was still morbidly obese.”

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A San Luis Obispo doctor's prescription for weight loss has proven effective, but are weight loss drugs safe? Experts caution against the potential risks and downsides.

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