What Black Americans need to know about stroke
April 5, 2021—When it comes to stroke, Black Americans are especially at risk. And the results of a new study published in the journal Hypertension show just how high that risk can be—even for young people. It found that Black young adults are nearly four times more likely than their white peers to have a stroke.
Researchers examined stroke rates among more than 5,000 Black and white adults in four U.S. cities over an average of 26 years. They found that the likelihood of having a stroke rose rapidly at around age 40, especially for Black adults.
A major reason for that? Many of the people in the study who had strokes had high blood pressure, even in their 30s and 40s. Over time, that can damage arteries, which helps set the stage for stroke.
But high blood pressure is only part of the picture. The scientists said more studies are needed to see how stroke and high blood pressure rates among Black people are influenced by social factors, like a lack of equitable access to health care, healthy foods and places to exercise.
3 ways to take action now
Racial disparities in America are complex issues that need to be addressed systemically. But if news like this makes you feel powerless, here are some ways you may be able help protect yourself and your community.
1. Advocate for local change. Team up with others in your community to be a voice for change. Look for ways you can work together to call for healthy improvements, such as:
- Safe places to walk, bike and exercise.
- Clean air to breathe.
- Access to public transportation.
- Affordable housing.
- Access to healthy foods.
- Community health and mental health resources.
2. Seek out healthcare providers who make you feel heard. Ask them about your stroke risk and how to lower it. Partner with them to make sure you're getting the treatments you need. For example, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol all raise your stroke risk. If you're having trouble taking or affording medicines to help manage these conditions, let your provider know.
It's also a good idea to learn the sudden warning signs of a stroke. Getting emergency help fast if you notice them could save your life or that of a loved one.
3. Focus on risk factors you can change. You can't change stroke risk factors like your age or race, but you may be able to do something about others. For instance:
- Choose heart-healthy foods that are low in sodium and saturated fat.
- If you smoke, ask your doctor for help to quit.
- Make time for regular exercise. If you're overweight, losing even a few pounds can help.
- Manage stress. Try to find time in your day for relaxation, and let your friends and family know how they can support you.
Learn more about how strokes happen.