Many health conditions impact certain communities more than others. Although unavoidable biological or genetic differences can increase risk for some diseases, more often these health disparities are due to differences in access to health care or the ability to manage one’s health needs. Race, ethnicity and income level are often factors that influence these differences.
How Stroke Risk Impacts Different Income Groups
According to Alex Chebl, M.D., a stroke neurologist for Henry Ford Health, stroke is one condition in which race and socioeconomic status can play a major role.
“What we do know is that lower socioeconomic status is directly related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in the United States,” says Dr. Chebl. “When people from lower income communities experience symptoms of stroke, there tends to be a lower frequency in seeking medical attention and lower rates in recovery.”
Dr. Chebl also points out that common risk factors for stroke can often be experienced at higher levels among lower income communities, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Alcohol and drug consumption
- Sedentary lifestyle
How Stroke Risk Impacts Different Racial Groups
Studies show that Black and Latino communities have a greater risk of developing stroke. In fact, African Americans are almost twice as likely to have a stroke than other racial groups.
Other health conditions that increase the risk of stroke but affect racial groups differently include:
- Hypertension. Compared to other racial groups, African Americans are at a higher risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure), and as a result, can have a higher risk of intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding into the brain). While having high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, learning to manage and lower your blood pressure can also lower your risk.
- Clogged arteries. Arteries can become clogged when plaque buildup prevents blood from flowing through the body. Research has found that people of European decent typically experience clogged arteries in the neck while African American and people of East Asian decent are more likely to have clogged arteries in the brain (as well as a unique form of hardening of the arteries that only affects the brain). As a result, these communities are at increased risk for lacunar strokes (stroke that happen deep within the brain).
- Sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease or sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition that affects your blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen. It tends to be more common among people with ancestors from regions where malaria is common (Africa and South America). Sickle cell disease can make it harder for blood cells to move through your blood vessels, increasing your risk of blood clots.
Minimizing Your Chances Of A Stroke
“We are still learning about how these factors contribute to your risk of stroke,” says Dr. Chebl. Fortunately, there are things that everyone can do to minimize their risk of stroke.
- Know your risk. If you have pre-existing health conditions or anything in your family history that could increase your risk of stroke, make sure you are actively taking steps to reduce your chances of a stroke.
- Make lifestyle changes. Get moving, avoid tobacco and alcohol, and make healthy food choices.
- Get vaccinated for COVID. COVID-19 can cause a significant inflammatory response in the body – putting you at a greater risk for heart attack or stroke. Combined with other risk factors, getting COVID could significantly increase your risk of stroke.
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help evaluate your stroke risk and monitor it over time. They can work with you to make necessary lifestyle changes.
- Know what to do in the event of a stroke. Knowing the signs of stroke can be the difference between life and death. Signs may include sudden facial droop, arm weakness, or speech difficulties.
- Act quickly and call 911. Every minute matters in stroke care. Waiting to seek medical attention could decrease your chances of recovery.
What is your risk for having a stroke? Take the online risk assessment now. To learn more about treatment available at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/stroke.
Dr. Alex Chebl is a stroke and interventional neurologist and director of the Henry Ford Comprehensive Stroke Center. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.