Actor Luke Perry died Monday at the age of 52 after he suffered a stroke last week. Not only was his age relatively young for someone to die from a stroke, but that fact that he was white also made him an exception to what is all but a rule: Strokes take the lives of Black people at a much higher rate than white people.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. It’s often described as a brain attack. Brain cells die when they are starved of oxygen.
Approximately 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, making it the fifth leading cause of death for Americans. For African-Americans, however, the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high compared to whites. Blacks also suffer the highest rate of death due to stroke.
A stroke also occurs earlier in life for African-Americans compared to other racial and ethnic groups, according to the National Stroke Association. Black stroke survivors are also more likely to become disabled and experience difficulties with daily living and activities.
There are several reasons for the higher risk among Blacks. High blood pressure is the top risk factor for stroke. One in three African-Americans suffer from high blood pressure and are less likely to have it under control than other ethnic and racial groups.
Other risk factors include smoking, which doubles the chances of suffering a stroke. Obesity also signals a high chance of getting a stroke. People who are overweight typically are less physically active and consume unhealthy foods, particularly foods that are high in fat and sodium.
Most strokes can be prevented by keeping risk factors under control and making lifestyle changes, the CDC said. Take control by making efforts to lower blood pressure, sodium and cholesterol intake. Quit smoking or don’t start at all. Commit to staying physically active, and make regular doctor visits.
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