February 10, 2005
New study reports Southern blacks face an increase risk of dying from a stroke
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—To gauge your disease risk, health experts talk about “knowing your numbers”—your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipid levels.
Now comes word that black Americans might want to add another number to that list—their zip code.
A new study suggests that living in the South compounds a black person’s already inflated risk of dying from a stroke.
In Mississippi, the ratio of black to white deaths is 4 to 1 among people ages 45 to 54. Among New Yorkers in the same age group, the ratio of black to white deaths is 2.5 to 1.
“This just reinforces that black Mississippians must do all they can to prevent strokes,” said Janice McGee, director of the stroke program at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. “Our very lives hinge on improving factors we can control, such as diet and activity levels.”
Funded by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the study looked at stroke deaths by race, age and state in the years from 1997 to 2001. Southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee—were compared to non-Southern states with large black populations like California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The study found that among Americans ages 65 to 74, the increased risk among Southern blacks is three times larger than the increase in risk for blacks in other regions of the country, said lead investigator George Howard, chairman of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.
“We already knew African Americans were at higher risk of dying from stroke, and we already knew the rate of stroke is higher in the southern United States for all races,” he said. “This shows that being African American and living in the South carries a compounded risk factor—an extra penalty.”
It will take further research to fully explain the disparity. In the meantime, McGee said black Southerners would be wise to avoid the habits that make people more vulnerable to stroke.
“According to the American Heart Association, African Americans are more likely than whites to be overweight or obese and less likely to be physically active,” McGee said. “The result is they’re also more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and artherosclerosis—which are all risk factors for stroke.”
While such statistics can be alarming, McGee said the good news is everyone can reduce their risk of stroke via a healthier lifestyle. Her advice is: Don’t smoke. Avoid alcohol. Be physically active. Eat a healthy diet. Get regular checkups and blood pressure screenings. And recognize and control diabetes.
She also recommends that people become familiar with the signs of stroke so that they can summon help as soon as possible. “Stroke is a ‘brain attack’ that constitutes a medical emergency,” McGee said.
McGee said if you notice any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately. As the American Stroke Association says: Time lost is brain lost.
Stroke symptoms include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body.
- Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
- Sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes.
- Sudden severe headache with no apparent cause.
- Sudden dizziness or unsteadiness.
Methodist Rehabilitation Center is one of only 16 hospitals in the country designated as a Traumatic Brain Injury Model System by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and is only one of two in the state accepted into the prestigious Council of Teaching Hospitals. It is also the only hospital in the state to be named one of America’s best by US News and World Report.