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Women and Stroke: The Role Ethnicity Plays

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role of ethnicity for women and stroke George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

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. Stroke affects African-Americans more than any other single ethnicity in the United States.

Consider the following statistics:

• African-American women are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke and 30 percent more likely to die from stroke than Caucasians. Hispanics are also more likely to die from a stroke.

• Strokes occur earlier in life in African-Americans. The risk of stroke in young African-Americans between the ages of 20-44 is almost 2 ½ times greater than that of Caucasians.

• African-American survivors have a greater chance of disability after stroke.

• Rate of first stroke in African-Americans is double that of Caucasians.

• African-Americans have double the stroke risk of Caucasians. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics risk factors fall between Caucasian and African-Americans.

• Estimates vary but 65 out of every 100,000 African-American women will suffer a stroke compared to only 47 Caucasian women. Some estimates are much higher indicating that 79 African-American women out of every 100,000 will suffer a storke compared to only 59 Caucasian women.

Researchers aren’t completely clear on why the incidence of stroke is so much higher in African-Americans and Hispanics but factors such as higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and low physical activity combined with environmental factors such as diet, low awareness and socioeconomic factors may play a role.

In addition, many women remain unaware of their risk factors or even the symptoms of stroke. It’s important for all women, but especially for minority women, to know that as with heart disease, stroke can be preventable.

If you don’t know your risk factors, learn them and then take action. More importantly, spread the word to your mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters and friends.


1. Race & Ethnicity – How it Affects Your Health. Heart Healthy Women.org 2012. http://www.hearthealthywomen.org/am-i-at-risk/featured/race-a-ethnicity-page-2.html

2. Race. Ethnicity and Stroke Factors. Heart Healthy Women. 2012.

3. Stroke Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 09 Dec 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm

4. African Americans and Stroke. National Stroke Association. 2012. http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AAMER

5. Stroke Statistics. The University Hospital, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. 2012. http://www.theuniversityhospital.com/stroke/stats.htm

Reviewed May 8, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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