Everyone we know has someone within their circle of family and friends that has had a stroke. Unfortunately, African Americans are more impacted by stroke than any other racial group within the American population. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for African Americans as for whites.
Unfortunately, many African Americans have the risk factors of stroke. There are three types, medical, lifestyle and uncontrollable risk factors.
The medical risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, circulation problems, sickle cell anemia, carotid artery disease and atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke and more than 40% African-American men and women have high blood pressure. And, 8.7% of all African Americans older than 20 years of age, have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, compared to 7.1% of non-Hispanic white Americans. The risk of diabetes is 77% higher among African Americans.
The lifestyle risk factors for stroke are diet and nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use and smoking, alcohol use, stress. These are things we can control but 63% of men and 77% of Black women are overweight or obese. Nearly 30% of African Americans report current use of tobacco.
The uncontrollable risk factors for stroke are age, gender, race/ethnicity, family history, previous stroke, fibro muscular dysplasia, patent foramen ovale and Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA often called a mini-stroke). African-Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians and the rate of first strokes is almost double that of Caucasians. Strokes among Black people tend to occur earlier in life. And as survivors, African-Americans are more likely to become disabled and experience difficulties with daily living and activities. Individuals with a first-degree family history of stroke are twice as likely as those without a family history to experience a stroke. A sibling history of stroke also may increase the likelihood of having a more severe stroke. Family history may increase the risk for stroke due to genetic factors, culture, and/or shared environment. That is, family members may have a genetic tendency toward hypertension, diabetes, and obesity and common social behaviors that may influence dietary habits, activity levels, and use of cigarettes and alcohol.
According to NIH, family history of stroke has been reported in 36% to 47% of African Americans with stroke, and researchers have found that having a parent or sibling who had a stroke at a younger age (under 60 years) increases the risk of having a young-onset stroke.
So that’s the bad news. Here is the good news. Stroke is preventable. Up to 80% of strokes could be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with your health care team to control health conditions that raise your risk for stroke.
You can help prevent stroke by making healthy lifestyle choices. Here are seven ways to start reining in your risks today to avoid stroke, before a stroke has the chance to strike.
1. Lower your blood pressure
Get your blood pressure checked and get and regularly take medication and monitor it if necessary.
Reduce the salt in your diet to no more than about a half teaspoon per day.
Avoid high-cholesterol foods, such as burgers, cheese, and ice cream.
Eat 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day, one serving of fish two to three times a week, and several daily servings of whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Exercise at least 30 minutes of activity a day, and more, if possible.
Quit smoking, if you smoke.
2. Lose weight
Work with your doctor to create a personal weight loss strategy.
Try to eat no more than 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day (depending on your activity level and your current Body mass index).
Increase the amount of exercise you do with activities like walking, golfing, or playing tennis, and by making activity part of every single day.
3. Exercise more
Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but it also stands on its own as an independent stroke reducer.
Exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week.
Take a walk around your neighborhood every morning after breakfast.
Start a fitness club with family and friends.
When you exercise, reach the level at which you’re breathing hard, but you can still talk.
Take the stairs instead of an elevator when you can.
If you don’t have 30 consecutive minutes to exercise, break it up into 10- to 15-minute sessions a few times each day.
4. If you drink — do it in moderation
Have no more than one glass of alcohol a day.
Make red wine your first choice, because it contains resveratrol, which is thought to protect the heart and brain.
Watch your portion sizes. A standard-sized drink is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12-ounce beer, or 1.5-ounce glass of hard liquor.
5. Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke.
If you have atrial fibrillation, get it treated. If you don’t know if you have it, get checked.
If you have symptoms such as heart palpitations or shortness of breath, see your doctor for an exam.
You may need to take a blood thinning medication so see your doctor.
6. Treat diabetes
Having high blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them.
Monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor.
Use diet, exercise, and medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range
7. Quit smoking
Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries. Smoking cessation is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your stroke risk significantly.
Ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.
Use quit-smoking aids, such as nicotine pills or patches, counseling, or medicine.
Don’t give up. Most smokers need several tries to quit. See each attempt as bringing you one step closer to successfully beating the habit.
For more information on stroke rehabilitation, recovery and prevention, and to become part of a supportive and nurturing community for stroke survivors and their families, go to WilliesWay.org and @Willie’s Way on Facebook and WilliesWay_org on Twitter and Instagram. #STROKEChooseHOPE