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Black people experience strokes more frequently and at younger ages

Stroke black woman

Strokes are the leading cause of death and a major contributor to disability in the United States.

(CNN) — The first time Leslie Jordan held her son, she didn’t recognize he was her child.

“I didn’t know I had delivered. I was just like, ‘Is this my baby?’” Jordan recalled, adding the whole room was crying.

Two days after her son’s birth, Jordan said she had a searing headache.

She said the pain “felt like someone had set my body on fire, like I was literally burning from the inside out.”

Jordan, who is Black, had been diagnosed with preeclampsia during her pregnancy, a blood pressure condition that can cause hypertension and other complications.

Jordan said after her delivery she spent days on various pain medications that didn’t numb the excruciating pain. And then she had a stroke.

“I was fully paralyzed. I couldn’t really see, walk or talk. I couldn’t move,” Jordan recalled. “I didn’t get a chance to go through postpartum because I had to fight for my life to survive so I could walk and talk and be here today to be a mom to my son.”

Strokes are the leading cause of death and a major contributor to disability in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study published Wednesday in the journal “Neurology” found Black people in the United States experience strokes more frequently and at younger ages compared to White people.

Researchers looked at stroke trends from more than two decades-worth of data from hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky.

From 1993 to 2015, the overall rate of stroke decreased from 230 cases per 100,000 people to 188. For Black people, the rate per 100,000 decreased from 349 to 311, and for White people the rate decreased from 215 to 170.

The rate of stroke among Black people was roughly 50% to 80% higher than the rate among White people over the studied period, with the strongest disparity happening for younger to middle-aged Black adults, the study found.

The study’s author, Dr. Tracy Madsen, an associate professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at Brown University, said the study’s findings were, in some ways, encouraging.

“We did see a decrease in stroke incidence over the 22-year period in Black adults. We had not seen that in prior study periods,” said Dr. Madsen, who is also an emergency medicine physician at both Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. “It’s just that the disparity is still there.”

The study also revealed strokes are happening at younger ages for both Black and White people, but Black people experience them nearly 10 years younger than White people.

Dina Piersawl, who is also Black, was 41, when she said she had an ischemic stroke. Mayo Clinic says this type of medical emergency can happen when blood is blocked or reduced to the brain.

In December 2004, Piersawl said she rushed to the emergency room with chest pain and headaches. She said her blood pressure was elevated, but a doctor told her, “It was probably just holiday stress … go home and follow up with my physician in a few days.”

Piersawl, a scientist who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, told CNN she returned home, only to have a stroke that severely weakened the left side of her body. She said it took her months to recover.

For nearly 20 years, Piersawl has worked to raise awareness about the risk of stroke, especially for Black women. She said in her years of advocacy, she’s spoken on Capitol Hill, attended meetings at the White House and trained at the Mayo Clinic under women cardiologists.

“You have to be your own advocate because you’re going to be discounted. You’re going to be discriminated against. You’re going to have to work harder than the White male,” she said. “But we’re inherently strong. So we can turn the tables on this thing with education.”

Today, Jordan is still recovering from her stroke, and her son is five years old. She’s also an advocate for the American Heart Association and said she shares her story to help educate others on the signs of stroke (facial drooping, arm weakness and difficulty speaking).

She also encourages people, especially Black Americans at risk of stroke, to get their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels tested regularly.

“The reason why I’m such an advocate about this is because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any other Black woman,” she said. “I want it to end with me.”

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Rikki Klaus