Stroke risk high for Black men

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. The Serenity Prayer

Dr. Niloufar Hadidi, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota wants to learn why African American men are twice as likely to have a stroke in their lifetime. She knows there is an understandable and historic mistrust on the part of BIPOC communities of the government and the medical industry.

More prevalent is the social stress surfacing and associated with just by being Black and living in a white world. Stress brings forth inflammation in the body which can lead to more cardiovascular diseases included stroke. Does an explanation run deeper? Is there more? Hadidi has been deeply engaged in leading grassroots activities to increase awareness of the profound physical, psychological, and emotional challenges that stroke survivors face; the conquered obstacles essential to recovery.

According to the Minnesota Heart Institute along with research and study findings from of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, eighty-five percent of all strokes are caused by blood clots disrupting the flow of blood to the brain. This abnormality is called an ischemic stroke. The other 15% are hemorrhagic where a blood vessel burst in the brain.

In Dr. Hadidi’s presentation last week to Northside Urban Coalition, hosted by Conversations with Al McFarlane , the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, and Hue-MAN Partnership, the alarming statistics leave no doubt. Attitudes, lifestyles, and routine wellness education and practices pertaining to our physical and mental well-being must take top priority. These are the things we can control. The unprecedented and traumatic past two years have taken a toll whether we recognize or acknowledge the levels of strength and willpower that have been required for most of us simply to maintain sanity, hope, and to survive. It’s called ‘being’ while Black and living in a world where Black pain is denied by justice officials who never walked in Black peoples’ shoes, but premeditated white murderous behavior is accepted and given a “get out of jail free” ticket. We are challenged to stop with the excuses and pay attention to the statistical data and trusted information offered by the experts.

Every 40 seconds someone has a stroke. Every 3 to 4 minutes, someone will die from a stroke. There are 4 million survivors of strokes, some suffering life-altering impairments such as cognitive damage, learning to walk and speak again, and having to depend on a caretaker or family member to get from day to day with any amount of success. Approximately 800,000 people suffer a new or recurring stroke every year. Black men aged 35-74 are 2.5 times and Black women 2.4 times as likely as their white counterparts to die of a stroke. In 2018, 1 in every 6 deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and diabetes are the leading causes. The major detriment for Blacks remains the disparaging black and white oppressive divide.

I recall the numbness I felt when I was recently accused of stealing in a local CVS store. Being one of a few Blacks residing in New Mexico’s capital city, I could only imagine what the customers in line thought of me as they all glared in my direction… probably that all of the negative said about Black folks was true. Black people are all thieves and welfare recipients. When the manager never came after my protest (I was reaching in my purse to answer my phone with the merchandise visible in the other hand), I was able to contact the corporate office regarding the false accusation and racist demeanor of the salesperson. The district manager was quite dismissive – “people do steal, ya know” as he multi-tasked in the background. I could barely drive home having still stood in line and paid for my nail treatment and soft peppermints. I thought of all the racial incidents I have experienced, and my children have endured and would declare to anyone that only through Divine Grace have I lived to be almost 75.

Dr. Hadidi would attest that many people of color don’t trust the government or the medical profession. But often the symptoms of their illnesses are not immediately apparent. They are dying, she said, and excuses are no longer an option. “There are certain factors in our lives that are simply out of our control such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, family history, and previous strokes. And then there are other changes we can make that can save our lives such as daily exercise including finding creative ways to work out in the winter months, a healthy diet, knowing our numbers such as pressure (under 130/80), body weight and mass (not over 30), addressing diabetes, blood sugar levels, and obesity, reducing cigarette smoking and drug addictions, and maintaining an attitude of gratitude.

The symptoms of a stroke fall under the acronym FAST: face dropping, arm weakening, speech difficulties, and time to call 911. The quicker the treatment, the less permanent damage to the body and mind. Some describe the onset of a stroke as this severe headache that will not go away.

CPPR (Community Partnered Participatory Research) is a community-academic partnership focused on trust and engaging communities around stroke prevention and awareness. The project is co-executed by Clarence Jones, founder of Hue-MAN Partnership. This collaboration consists of health care, community, and professional organizations seeking to address the health crisis among young and middle-aged men, primarily men of color. The study seeks a better understanding of individual life choices that might increase the chance of this person having a stroke. In addition, the project will use feedback from discussion groups to help figure out the best ways to increase knowledge about stroke, increase healthy lifestyle choices, and reduce the chance of an impairment.

“As we work with focus groups, we see CPPR as an opportunity to change health in the Black community. There are authentic conversations and effective engagement in a safe environment where participants can ask questions and not be judged, where they can believe in themselves and believe in the agenda that respects their humanity, and how we can best share our findings and recommendations with our communities,” Jones said. “We want more people who are at risk to begin to educate themselves, ask the right questions armed with the knowledge pertaining to their own health, and then take ownership of necessary changes.”

Phase One of the focus group study will include community listening circles to help build trust by expressing concerns and perspectives, clarifying misconceptions and misinformation about strokes, and offering solutions to other members of the group and to their respective communities. Phase II involves the delivery of education aimed at reducing physical and mental risk factors and empowering people of color, especially African American men to identify and alter the risk factors.

Additional Resource: REGARDS: The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study, an epidemiological study following a cohort of U.S. adults for stroke and cognitive decline.

For further information regarding CPPR focus group participation and other trusted information and resources: Dr. Niloufar Hadidi – University of MN School of Nursing, (612) 628-8901 and Clarence Jones, The Hue-MAN Partnership (612) 759-2170.

— Angie Stevens,

Innovation / Systems Change Coordinator at Minnesota Department of Health- Sage Program


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