The idea of a stroke is frightening because it comes without warning and can change your life forever. Unfortunately, nearly 800,000 people will experience a new or recurrent stroke every year, and stroke is a leading cause of disability in the United States.

In any given year, 100,000 African-Americans will have a stroke ‒ the third-leading cause of death in the African-American community. Overall, African-Americans suffer more strokes than any other group of people. Studies show that if you are Black and of African or Caribbean origin, you are twice as likely to have a stroke, and at a younger age, than White people. The reasons for this are complex and not completely understood.

Stroke is also the leading cause of preventable disability. Research shows that up to 80 percent of strokes could have been prevented.

Two types

There are  two main types of stroke: those that block arteries and those that cause arteries to bleed.

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by bleeding in the brain due to a weak spot in the wall of the vessel, which can cause an aneurysm (bulging of the vessel wall). The vessels can also be weakened by chronic, very high blood pressure and break from force. When the vessel breaks, the blood leaks into surrounding tissue, and the brain doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Ischemic stroke results from blocked arteries which often occur from cholesterol buildup called plaque. The risk of ischemic stroke ‒ the most prevalent type of stroke, which is caused by a blood clot that blocks an artery ‒ is three times higher in African-Americans than in Whites. Interestingly, nearly half of all stroke patients suffered from transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).

Think of plaques like scabs on the inside of the vessel. If you have ever lifted up a scab on your arm, if you lift too far, you can cause it to bleed again because it’s not done healing underneath. You’ve created a new injury. In the case of your arm, a new scab forms by forming a clot, which is great for helping the skin heal.

Similarly, plaques on the inside of the vessel can be fragile when blood flows past, causing the plaque to lift.  But in your blood vessel, when a plaque lifts up and the body tries to heal it like it would a scab on your arm, it makes a clot where that plaque lifted up which blocks blood flow and can lead to an ischemic stroke.

The impact of stress

Too much stress in our daily lives is unhealthy. According to the American Medical Association, roughly 80 percent of doctor visits are stress-related. Stress can cause headaches, upset stomach, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and a whole lot more. But does stress cause stroke?

Chronic stress has been thought to be a risk factor for stroke. In studies, acute stress has been found to be a trigger for stroke. That means that strokes occur immediately after a stressful event more often than would be expected.

But what about major, deadly conditions like stroke? A University of Michigan study found that men who were more physiologically reactive to stress (as measured by high blood pressure) were 72 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.

However, while stress is linked, but not firmly established as an  independent risk factor for stroke, stress is linked with several firmly established risk factors for stroke such as high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity.

Recognize strokes

It’s important to be able to recognize the  symptoms of a stroke as soon as possible. The quicker you can spot them, the sooner you’ll receive medical attention and the better your chances of recovery are. The  F.A.S.T.  guide  is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke and check on a possible

stroke victim.

  • Face drooping. Typically, one side of the face will droop or become numb. Ask the person to smile. If it’s uneven, that’s a sign.
  • Arm weakness or numbness. A stroke will leave one arm weak or numb, making it difficult for a person to hold both arms up at the same level. See if one arm stays lower than another.
  • Speech difficulty or slurred speech. A stroke causes confusion and makes it hard to understand speech. Check on whether the victim can repeat a simple sentence clearly.
  • Time to call 9-1-1. As soon as you  recognize these symptoms, call 9-1-1. Even if these symptoms are only temporary, get the sufferer proper treatment. Keep in mind the exact time the symptoms started so you can reference it later.

By understanding the root causes of a stroke, you can minimize your risk of having one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!


Glenn Ellis is a regular media contributor on health equity and medical ethics. For more information, visit

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