Published on May 07, 2019

African american family

Stroke Risk in the African American Community

John Singleton’s sudden death last week took many by surprise. The Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter, best known for movies like Boyz n the Hood and Poetic Justice, was just 51 years old.

Unfortunately, his story is all too common. African American men are twice as likely as white men to suffer a stroke and are also more likely to have strokes at a younger age, die from a stroke, or experience serious disability from strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Evidence points to a few reasons why strokes disproportionately impact African Americans.


  • High blood pressure often starts at a younger age and is more severe in African Americans
  • Higher rates of diabetes and obesity, which can lead to high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Sickle cell anemia


While these statistics may be startling, it’s important to keep another fact in mind: Approximately 80% of strokes can be prevented.

“A stroke can be devastating, but it is reassuring to know that there are steps individuals can take to lower their risk of suffering from a stroke,” says Terri Marshall, RN, BSN, SCRN, stroke program coordinator at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.  

Whatever your age, race, or gender, a few, simple steps can help lower your risk of stroke.


An annual wellness exam is an important opportunity to talk with your provider about any health concerns and discuss your family history. Your doctor will also take your blood pressure and order blood tests to check your cholesterol, blood sugar, and other levels that give your physician a picture of your overall health and risk of stroke.

“An annual exam is so important,” explains Terri. “For example, high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and it often goes undetected until it causes serious problems.  Regular blood pressure checks help your physician begin a treatment plan before that happens.”

“Eating healthy, low fat, low sodium diets, taking prescribed medications, and regularly checking your blood pressure can reduce your risk,” she continues. “And don’t smoke! Smoking significantly increases your risk of stroke, amongst other diseases.”


A healthy and active lifestyle can also help you reduce your risk of stroke.

“A brisk, 30-minute walk, just three times a week, can lower your risk of stroke by up to 35%,” Terri shares. “That is a major improvement!”

Make healthy meals and snacks a priority. A few simple substitutes can reduce your risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Try these changes to your daily meal plan:

  • Snack on fresh fruits or vegetables dipped in Greek yogurt or hummus
  • Cover half to two-thirds of your plate at mealtimes in fruits and vegetables
  • Cook a meatless meal at least once or twice a week
  • Swap refined grain (like white bread) for whole grain products
  • Grab a handful of nuts for a healthy afternoon snack
  • Focus on lean protein sources, including fish, beans or skinless poultry

Keep in mind it’s important to talk with your doctor before changing your diet.


When it comes to treating stroke, seconds matter. Advances in medicine are helping improve outcomes for many patients, but these treatments can only be administered within hours after symptoms begin.

“A stroke can happen to anyone at any age,” says Terri. “It’s so important to know what a stroke looks like and what to do so that you or your loved one can get the necessary treatment.”


Stroke symptoms can be different for everyone, but Terri says to remember one simple rule to help you assess your symptoms: BE FAST, which stands for:

  • Balance: Sudden onset of balance issues, dizziness, loss of coordination
  • Eyes: Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes, including blurry or double vision
  • Face: One side of the face is drooping
  • Arms: Inability to raise and keep one arm raised, or numbness in your arm.
  • Speech: Slurred or slow speech.
  • Time: Call 9-1-1 to get medical attention as quickly as possible

“If you even think that there could be a slight chance you are having a stroke, call 9-1-1,” Terri states. “An ambulance will take you to the nearest stroke center to make sure you receive the care and treatment you need.”

“Do not wait and do not try to drive yourself,” she emphasizes. “Seek treatment as soon as symptoms begin by calling 9-1-1.”

Shady Grove Medical Center is a primary stroke center, designated by The Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services. We are committed to delivering the care our patients need from the moment they arrive in our emergency department. We are also proud to have earned a Get With the Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award from the American Heart Association for meeting high standards of stroke care. 

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