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Mexican-Americans Have Higher Stroke Rates

Prevention programs should target specific groups, experts say

THURSDAY, Dec. 30, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Mexican-Americans have about a 20 percent higher risk of stroke than do non-Hispanic whites, claims a new update on stroke and heart disease from the American Heart Association.

Overall, stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Almost 700,000 people each year suffer a first or recurrent stroke. For those older than 55, one in six are at risk for stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Most of the data on Mexican-Americans and stroke included in the AHA's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2005 Update was reported earlier this year in a study from the Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi Project.

In that study, the researchers found that about 168 out of every 10,000 Mexican-Americans had a stroke from 2000-2002, compared with 136 out of 10,000 non-Hispanic whites.

This increase in the risk of stroke among Mexican-Americans was for all types of stroke. In addition, Mexican-Americans tended to have strokes at an earlier age compared with non-Hispanic whites, the researchers reported.

"We have not, up to this point, had data for Mexican-Americans," said Virginia Howard, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama and chairwoman of the AHA stroke statistics subcommittee.

This study is important, Howard said. "Stroke impacts all race and ethnic groups. We need to target prevention strategies specific for the different race/ethnic groups," she said.

The most important risk factor for stroke is elevated blood pressure. Those whose blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg have half the risk of a stroke compared with those whose blood pressure is more than 140/90 mmHg, according to the update.

According to the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, between one-quarter and one-half of Mexican-Americans have hypertension. Yet awareness, treatment, and control of blood pressure among this group is significantly lower than it is among non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks.

"There are differences between race/ethnic groups that we need to be aware of related to access to care or other cultural issues," Howard said. "We can't just lump all types of prevention programs, we need to target them specifically to different populations."

Howard suggests that people should be able to have their blood pressure checked in places that are most convenient for them. These may include schools, beauty salons, libraries and churches. "There need to be targeted strategies that go where the people congregate," she said.

"This is really an important public health problem that will be part of this country for this century," said Dr. Lewis B. Morgenstern, director of the Stroke Program at the University of Michigan Health System and lead author of the Corpus Christi study.

Morgenstern believes that risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure, coupled with limited access to quality medical care and lack of stroke prevention and treatment education, are the reasons why Mexican-Americans have a higher risk for stroke.

Currently, Morgenstern's team is working in Corpus Christi to educate Mexican-American middle school children about stroke. The goal is that they learn about stroke themselves and take the information to their parents and grandparents.

"This is one instance of setting up a culturally appropriate intervention," Morgenstern said. "The same can be done on the prevention side by letting people know that stroke is a very bad disease, but one that is preventable."

More information

The American Stroke Association can tell you more about stroke.

SOURCES: Virginia Howard, M.S.P.H., assistant professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Alabama, Birmingham and chairwoman, American Heart Association stroke statistics subcommittee; Lewis B. Morgenstern, M.D., director, Stroke Program, and associate professor of neurology, epidemiology, emergency medicine and neurosurgery, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor; Dec. 31, 2004, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2005 Update; Aug. 15, 2004, American Journal of Epidemiology
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