Cold increases stroke risk for African-Americans

Cold increases stroke risk for African-Americans
January 28
00:00 2016
By Amanda Jones
The Chronicle

Though it lasts only one quarter of the year, winter remains the most high-alert season for disease and illness. And, while many people are aware of and prepared for the threat of common cold-weather ailments – such as bronchitis, influenza, hypothermia, frostbite, dry skin, and brittle hair – few are aware of the threat of another, more serious winter ailment: stroke.

As reported by the American Stroke Association, many medical journals have conducted studies wherein “most of these studies have reported that stroke incidence peaks in winter” and “the vast majority of stroke events occurred in the home.”

Dr. Gerard Piñol-Ripoll and researchers for the Cerebrovascular Diseases medical journal stated: “Many mechanisms could explain this increase in incidence during winter season: increases in blood pressure, fibrinogen blood levels and blood viscosity, and variations in cholesterol blood levels; however, acute infections could be an important determinant.”

Dr. Adrian Barnett from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at Queensland University of Technology explained, in layman’s terms, that: “Exposure to the cold raises blood pressure because the veins and arteries constrict, which puts extra stress on the heart and circulatory system that can be a real problem for people.” This is especially the case for African-Americans,who are already at high risk for stroke.

According to the CDC, the risk of having a “stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks than for whites, and blacks are more likely to die following a stroke.” Moreover, the organization’s statistics show that stroke is the third most common cause for death in African-Americans, with 34 percent of stroke-related deaths occurring in individuals under the age of 65. This is largely due to the fact that the major risk factors for stroke – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking – are frighteningly prevalent amongst African-Americans. The CDC reported that, amongst African-American adults, about one in five smokes cigarettes (18.3 percent overall), about one in three has high cholesterol (30.7 percent of men and 33.6 percent of women), and about one in two has high blood pressure (43 percent of men and 45.7 percent of women). This is only worsened in winter with generally increased poor diet, decreased exercise, decreased vitamin D, and decreased autoimmune function, which add stress to blood vessels, making it easier for blood clots to form and travel to the brain.

However, African-Americans can lower their risk of winter stroke with a few simple actions. Dr. Barnett suggested that it “could be as simple as putting on a hat and gloves because the peak season for cardiovascular deaths is upon us.”

Dr. Pelle G. Lindqvist of the American Heart Association added that taking a vitamin D supplement or going outside may help, since dark “skin acts as a sun shield, and so pale individuals need less time in the sun than more densely pigmented individuals.”

Dr. Niro Siriwardena and researchers for the Vaccine medical journal also stated that the flu shot “is associated with a reduction in incidence of stroke” because “stroke may be triggered by respiratory infections, including influenza.”

In addition, common sense dictates that maintaining healthier choices in diet, along with regular exercise, can also help lower the risk of stroke during winter.

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