Anti-Gay Prejudice Linked to Health Disparities
Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals have a greater risk for a variety of negative health effects as a result of stress caused by anti-gay prejudice. That's according to a new study that's the first comprehensive overview of the various ways in which social inequality impacts LGB physical health. It found that LGB individuals are at increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among other ailments.
"Our review is the first to bring together social and basic science research to demonstrate the truly negative impact that anti-gay stigma can have on the physical health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people," co-author Laura E. Durso said.
One reason: Most health providers do not ask about sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are they trained in the unique health care needs of LGBT people or the health disparities they experience. Many LGBT patients are not "out" to their providers; as a result, they are not screened for issues that may disproportionately affect LGB people.
"The review demonstrates that disparities in LGB physical health are quite real, and that more research is critical for understanding how to address such negative health outcomes for all Americans," co-author David Lick said.
The Williams Institute at UCLA report states that when compared to people who identify as heterosexual, LGB individuals report more asthma diagnoses, more headaches, more chronic diseases and more allergies. They are also increased cases of osteoarthritis and serious gastro-intestinal problems.
Researchers also found lesbian and bisexual women experience increased risks of some cancers when compared to heterosexuals, especially breast cancer, as well as a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown lesbians are less likely than heterosexual women to have health insurance or get preventive health care such as mammograms, and they may also be at greater risk for ovarian cancer.
A direct cause for may be the fact that lesbians are up to ten times less likely to be screened for ovarian cancer.
When compared to heterosexual men, gay men experience greater risk of cardiovascular disease. They also have more migraine headaches and urinary incontinence.
Dr. Albert Mestre, a South Florida infectious disease specialist, is not surprised by the report's findings. He treats several HIV positive patients. Dr. Mestre points to a sobering statistic: Gay and bisexual men, especially those from communities of color, are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, accounting for roughly half of the 1.2 million Americans living with the virus and 66 percent of new infections in 2010. "That higher incidence of HIV and other STDs put gay and bisexual men at higher risk for cancer," he said.
Another factor: One quarter of people with HIV are currently uninsured. This includes many gay and bisexual men. Lack of access to health care has been a major contributing factor to LGB health disparities.
Dr. Mestre said it's imperative that LGB individuals find a health care provider they trust. He suggests asking family and friends for recommendations.
"You have to find a doctor that you trust and one that treats you fairly and with respect, " he said.
But it doesn't end there. He suggests regular HIV tests. It also means, knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. "Staying on top of those numbers and getting preventive tests can make a huge difference," he said.