Ischemic (pronounced ‘is-skeem-ik’) stroke, which accounts for a full 87 percent of all cases of stroke, is caused when an artery to the brain becomes obstructed or blocked. This usually occurs when fatty deposits line the walls of the artery and effectively narrow it, preventing nutrients and oxygen from traveling to the brain. When arteries become too narrow, the blood cells may begin to collect until they form blood clots. A stroke occurs when a blood clot remains where it was formed and blocks the flow of blood to the brain (known as a cerebral thrombosis), or when a clot that has formed in one part of the artery travels to a narrower stretch and, there, blocks the flow of blood to the brain (cerebral embolism).

Now, a new study published in Annals of Neurology reports that ischemic stroke is 34 percent more common among Mexican Americans than non-Hispanic whites.

“In minority groups stroke occurs at much younger ages, often resulting in greater disability and significantly higher costs,” said Dr. Lewis B. Morgenstern of the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center in a statement to the press. Unfortunately, the greater prevalence of strokes among Mexican Americans relative to non-Hispanic whites has not changed at all in the last decade.

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S. at 17 percent of the population, with the 2013 U.S. Census calculating an increase to more than 30 percent of the population by 2050. “With stroke causing such a personal, family and economic burden in minorities, our study focuses on Mexican Americans—one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the U.S. population,” added Morgenstern.

The impact on public health may also be great, as experts estimate the cost associated with stroke during the first half of this century to amount to more than $1.5 trillion.

Data Reviewed

To understand how different segments of the population are affected by stroke, researchers studied trends in subjects 45 years of age and older living in Corpus Christi, Texas, between January 2000 and December 2010, where two-thirds of the community members were Mexican American. The data is part of a project known as Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi (BASIC), an ongoing stroke surveillance project focused on Mexican Americans and led by the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Results show 2,604 Mexican Americans and 2,042 non-Hispanic whites experienced an ischemic stroke during that period, with an overall decline by 36 percent among those over age 60 — for both non-Hispanic whites and Mexican Americans. Still, a disparity existed between stroke rates for Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites among those between the ages of 45 and 74.

“The dramatic decline in stroke rates during the last decade is encouraging,” stated Morgenstern. “However, the ongoing disparity among younger patients emphasizes the need for further interventions to prevent stroke, particularly among young Mexican Americans.”

Symptoms, Risks

Signs of a stroke include a dropping or numb face, a weak or numb arm, and slurred speech. If you or someone experiences these symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 and get help. It is important to remember that although ischemic strokes generally affect older people (60 years of age and up), strokes may affect people of all ages, including children. Generally speaking, the risk increases with age.

Stroke is more prevalent among African Americans than members of other ethnic groups. With nearly double the chance of having a stroke as compared to whites, African Americans are also twice as likely to die of a stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, strokes tend to occur earlier in life within the group as well.

Stroke is also more common among women than men; about 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year.

Conditions that place people within a higher risk category for stroke include high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and diabetes. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and obesity also elevate risk levels for stroke.

Source: Morgenstern LB, Smith MA, Sanchez BN, et al. Persistent Ischemic stroke disparities despite declining incidence in Mexican Americans. Annals of Neurology. 2013.