Growing Stroke Awareness Among Latinos

05/04/2015 04:02 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

By Dr. Eduardo Sanchez

On average, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. So by the time you finish reading this post, this debilitating and deadly condition has probably stricken at least four people.

In the Latino community, stroke may be more debilitating or deadly because far too often we ignore the warning signs. Studies show that Hispanics are more likely to delay care, drop out of treatment when symptoms disappear, and avoid doctor visits.

As we enter May -- American Stroke Month -- we need to know the facts, and we need to grow awareness in nuestra communidad.

The good news is that strokes are slowly becoming less deadly over time. Stroke has fallen from fourth to fifth place among the nation's leading causes of death. But we must continue our work and vigilance, because stroke is still the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

Hispanics are 30-percent more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanics, according to the federal Office of Minority Health. And the average age for a stroke is much younger in our community -- 67, compared with 80 for non-Hispanics.

The impact of all of this harsh reality reaches further than our own barrios, neighborhoods, and vecindarios. As the Hispanic population increases -- both in number and proportion -- in the United States, stroke will have an even greater impact on individuals. Overall, the number of Americans having strokes may increase by 20 percent by 2030, according to the AHA, which has called it a "looming crisis." Costs to treat stroke are projected to more than double, from $71.55 billion in 2010 to $183.13 billion in 2030.

Quite alarmingly, stroke prevalence is anticipated to increase the most among Hispanic men between now and 2030, by 29 percent. Yet low health literacy, lack of transportation and access to health care, and language can be barriers to preventing stroke in our community.

That means awareness is as critical as ever. Consider:

  • Hispanics face an even greater risk of stroke partly due to increased rates of obesity and diabetes, and controlling high blood pressure is the number-one way to prevent stroke.
  • Among Hispanics who experienced a stroke, 72 percent had high blood pressure, compared with 66 percent in non-Hispanic whites.
  • Spanish-speaking Hispanics are less likely to know all stroke symptoms than English-speaking Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic whites. Low awareness and lack of English proficiency is strongly associated with lack of stroke knowledge among Hispanics.
  • Carrying extra weight is also a key risk factor for Hispanics. Seventy-five percent of Mexican-American men and 72 percent of Mexican-American women age 20 and older are overweight or obese.

Education about stroke in our communities requires messages that reach people where they are, and we need to increase our focus on diabetes, hypertension and weight control.

Stroke causes the death of one in four Hispanic males and one in three Hispanic women. If we want to change those numbers, we must learn to all speak the same language of stroke awareness.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez is the chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association.