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Mexican-Americans Weak on Stroke Knowledge

They are less likely to recognize symptoms, study finds

FRIDAY, June 1, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're having a stroke, getting medical attention quickly can make all the difference.

But a new study finds that Mexican-Americans are less likely to recognize stroke symptoms or to call 911 than non-Hispanic white Americans. Mexican-Americans also are less likely to know stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, or to be aware that effective stroke therapy is available. The findings appear in the June issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"Knowledge about stroke is bad in all ethnic groups, but worse among Mexican-Americans," says lead study author Dr. Lewis B. Morgenstern, associate professor of neurology and epidemiology at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. "We need to find ways to get the message across that stroke is the most preventable of catastrophic medical conditions. There are a tremendous number of things every individual can do to control the risk factors, such as exercise, proper diet and taking proper medications."

Morgenstern and his colleagues surveyed 357 Mexican-Americans and 362 non-Hispanic whites in Corpus Christi, Texas, about their knowledge of stroke and their ability to quickly access medical care.

Researchers found both groups did poorly in naming stroke symptoms, but Mexican-American performed much worse. Mexican-Americans also were more likely to believe they could do little to lessen their chances of a stroke.

The National Stroke Association says the risk of stroke can be lessened by lifestyle changes or medications that conrol high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and obesity and by not smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Uncontrollable risk factors include being male, over age 65, African-American or having a family or personal history of stroke.

About 54 percent of Mexican-Americans said they would call 911 if they saw someone with symptoms of a stroke, compared with 63 percent of non-Hispanic whites. About 48 percent of Mexican-Americans knew about treatments to lessen the damage of stroke, compared with 58 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Only 38 percent of Mexican-Americans realized getting treatment quickly is very important, compared with 62 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The clot-busting drug called plasminogen activator has to be given within two hours of the onset of stroke to lessen the chance of permanent disability, Morgenstern says.

"The study suggests with education and with dispelling some fatalistic health beliefs, we could do a lot to help this very important segment of society," Morgenstern says.

Jane Delgado, director of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health in Washington, D.C., says Mexican-Americans might be less likely to call 911 for stroke symptoms for many reasons.

Hispanics are the least likely of any ethnic group to have health insurance, and many who do not trust the police see 911 as a direct line to police, she says.

And many manual laborers who work outside think a severe headache and feeling nauseous or faint (stroke symptoms) are just the result of overexertion in the heat, she says.

Delgado says public education campaigns that reach the Hispanic community and take into account cultural differences and beliefs need to be developed.

"You can't just translate English public service announcements into Spanish. The campaigns need to be developed for the Hispanic community," she says.

What To Do

Know the symptoms of stroke. The National Stroke Association says the five most common symptoms are:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion and trouble speaking or understanding;
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause;
  • Less common symptoms like sudden nausea, fever or vomiting that comes on in minutes or brief loss of consciousness.

For more information on preventing stroke and heart-healthy Mexican recipes, check the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's bilingual brochure Salud Para Su Corazon (For the Health of Your Heart) or the National Stroke Association's Web site.

If you're interested in learning about clinical trials, take a look at Veritas Medicine.

Or see these previous HealthDay stories on stroke.

SOURCES: Interviews with Lewis B. Morgenstern, M.D., associate professor of neurology and epidemiology, University of Texas Medical School, Houston; Jane Delgado, Ph.D., director, National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Washington, D.C.; June 2001 Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association
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