Stroke death disparities vary widely

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2003

ATLANTA (AP) – The first county-by-county atlas of U.S. stroke deaths confirmed in graphic detail Thursday that Southerners and blacks are more likely than other Americans to die of a stroke, and those in Suffolk died of stroke at a rate of about 20 percent greater than the overall average.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that blacks are 40 percent more likely than whites to die of a stroke. South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina had the highest rates of death by stroke, the third-leading cause of U.S. deaths after heart disease and cancer.

Northeastern states and Florida had the lowest stroke death rates in the CDC Stroke Atlas.

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The report, which covered data from 1991 to 1998, confirmed racial and ethnic disparities long known by doctors.

&uot;We’re really hoping that by showing the magnitude of the burden, our policy makers would be aided in making a decision in where to put resources in order to (prevent) death and disability,&uot; said Dr. George Mensah, chief of the CDC’s heart disease and stroke prevention program.

Experts suspect blacks have more strokes because they have higher rates of high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for strokes. Blood-pressure lowering drugs have been less effective for blacks, doctors say.

Doctors suspect the South has a higher stroke rate because it has more poor communities with less access to health care and greater risk factors such as obesity, smoking and lack of physical activity.

Strokes affect 700,000 Americans every year, killing 165,000, the CDC said.

The overall stroke death rate for adults 35 and older was 121 per 100,000 people. The range among states varied from 89 per 100,000 people in New York to 169 per 100,000 in South Carolina.

In Suffolk, the rate was 145 per 100,000 people, while in neighboring Southampton County, the rate was 175 per 100,000. Both communities showed just under 14 percent of the population living below the poverty level.

The CDC said health officials can eliminate racial and geographic disparities by reducing blood pressure, smoking and weight problems among people in high risk groups.

Providing quick access to emergency care also is important, because the main drug to treat strokes is effective if given within three hours after a person shows symptoms, said Dr. David Hess, chairman of neurology at the Medical College of Georgia.

But providing proper health care in rural areas can be difficult.

&uot;We probably have excellent ways to prevent stroke, the problem is we can’t deliver that care,&uot; Hess said. &uot;It’s really appalling how bad it is.&uot;