Coming from a multi-ethnic family, I’ll never forget the day that one of my sisters asked me if her ethnicity made a difference in her risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
As a health advocate speaking and writing about stroke and heart disease, I try to make it my business to know as much as I can about these topics and her question caught me by surprise.
Since she is adopted, her family history for stroke and other diseases is different from the risk factors shared by the biological siblings. She is also of Hispanic descent.
At the time that she asked this question, the concept that ethnicity or race could play a role in the diseases that we develop later in life was still foreign to me.
Were my siblings who were of African-American and Hispanic descent at a greater or lesser risk? Does ethnicity really make a difference when it comes to conditions like heart disease and stroke? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death in the world. On average, approximately 15 percent of all persons with a stroke die soon after the stroke occurs. Twenty-five percent of all women who suffer a stroke die within a year.
In addition, stroke is also the leading cause of disability. Only 10 percent of all people who suffer a stroke recover completely.
The remaining suffer some type of disability ranging from minor impairment -- 25 percent -- with 50 percent suffering some type of permanent impairment ranging from moderate to severe enough to require long-term nursing care.
In general, women don’t fare as well as men when it comes to stroke. While women account for only 43 percent of all strokes suffered, the majority of stroke deaths -- 61 percent -- occur in women.
African-American women and women of Hispanic or Mexican-American descent have a much higher risk of suffering a stroke, disability, and subsequent death from stroke.
African-Americans are particularly impacted by stroke. Fifty percent of all African-American women will die from either stroke or heart disease.