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Fatal stroke risk highest for African-Americans

separator In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that African Americans are more likely to die from a stroke, and they’re more likely to do so at a much younger age than whites, Hispanics and people of other races. This information reflects a trend that public health officials have noticed for quite a while—that African Americans have higher mortality rates not just in stroke, but also heart disease and cancer.

According to the CDC, from 1991 to 1998, 166 out of 100,000 African Americans had fatal strokes each year. For whites, there were 117 fatal strokes per 100,000. Additionally, about half of stroke deaths among African Americans occurred before age 75, compared with 25 percent for whites.

It’s important for people of any race to take a look at their lifestyle, identify the stroke risk factors they can control and take steps to decrease those risks. Quitting smoking, controlling diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol are some of the most common things you can do to lower your risk of stroke.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about your stroke risk and steps you can take to lower it. After you’ve had a successful heart procedure, such as bypass surgery or valve replacement, you may feel like you’re out of the woods. For most people who follow the recommended lifestyle changes, life returns to normal and things go well. But sometimes, heart attacks and heart valve problems can cause damage that eventually leads to heart failure. So even though heart failure is not a result of high tech procedures, it’s something to watch out for if you have had damage to your heart.

When you have heart failure, your heart can’t work hard enough to pump blood through your body. As the blood flow in your body slows down, fluid can leak into your lungs and other tissue. This fluid is the congestion that gives congestive heart failure its name.

Signs of heart failure
One of the most common signs of heart failure is shortness of breath. This is caused by excess fluid in the lungs. It can happen when you’re at rest or when you’re exercising. Other signs include
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Swelling in the legs or ankles
  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen
  • Trouble sleeping, and waking up short of breath
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired all the time

Most of the time, people don’t notice heart failure symptoms until the condition has been present for quite a while—sometimes even years. That’s because your heart adjusts to the pumping difficulties by becoming larger, by strengthening its muscle fibers and by contracting more frequently. These adjustments can delay the symptoms, but eventually, the heart cannot keep up, and the symptoms of heart failure appear.

Medication, lifestyle changes important in heart failure
The primary treatments for heart failure include taking medication and making lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, controlling your weight, watching what you eat, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol or not drinking at all.

Going to the doctor regularly is also important. It helps keep you aware of the status of your condition, and of any medication or other changes you might need to make.

The American Stroke Association; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; NHLBI Publication: Mobilizing African American Communities to Address Disparities in Cardiovascular Health
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