African-Americans know the signs of stroke but more interventions are needed to get them to call 911 since they are unfamiliar with the need to get immediate medical care to avoid death and disability. More than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure (defined as 140/90 mmHg or more); they tend to develop hypertension at an earlier age, and it usually is more severe and results in more complications and preventable death.
Even though African Americans are the population at highest risk, research shows that many don’t know very much about strokes. In studies of adults living near in urban communities, for example, elderly African American men had significant gaps in knowledge about stroke risk factors and warning signs, although they are a high-risk group.
African Americans are also more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and coronary heart disease. And in 2014, African Americans were 50% more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic Whites; among Black women, specifically, the odds were 60%.
Obesity is itself a risk factor for stroke; it also contributes strongly to diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Weight gain starts early: Research shows that African American children ages 6 to 17 were already 30% more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic Whites.
African Americans are also more likely to have a lower socioeconomic status, and so may be less likely to eat healthy, higher-priced foods; have health insurance; and get regular checkups that could potentially detect and treat hypertension before it escalates.
Knowing your family history of stroke and its risk factors and communicating your racial and ethnic background to your doctor is an important part of determining your true stroke risk, especially because skin color and facial features aren’t always good indicators of your ethnic heritage.
The best ways to protect yourself are the same no matter what your race or ethnicity. Here's what you can do:
- Be physically active.
- Enjoy a low-sodium diet (Consume no more than 1,500 mg sodium per day).
- Eat healthy foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol.
- Avoid drinking alcohol in excess.
- Shed excess weight.
- Don’t smoke.
Work with your doctor to manage high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
See your doctor for a thorough checkup at least once a year.
As you adopt healthy habits, encourage your family members and friends to take steps to prevent stroke. Together, you can help reverse the trend.