Doctors studying stroke data in Greenville say African Americans are at much higher risk than other race and ethnicities

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and doctors at Bon Secours Saint Francis say some of us are at much higher risk of having a stroke — arguing ethnicity and environment play a major role.

Julius Hudson is 54-years-old and a bodybuilder. He’s been in the gym since he was 19, works out six days a week, and eats clean because he knows heart disease runs in his family.

But still, he suffered three strokes in one week.

“Coming from someone who thinks they’re doing the right thing, eating right, exercising…” Hudson said. “Having a stroke is mind-boggling, to say the least.”

He said he knew something was wrong when reached for his bottle of water but couldn’t move it.

“When I sat down someone came into my office and was talking to me and when it was my time to speak, I had a very difficult time speaking,” Hudson said as he explained what it felt like. “At that time I knew I was having a stroke.”

Doctor John McBurney at Saint Francis has been breaking down stroke data in different racial and ethnic groups for three years.

“One thing really jumped out and that was that our average African American stroke patient was over 10 years younger than any other racial or ethnic group that we took care of,” said Dr. McBurney.

He went on to say that by age 40, a black person is 300-percent more likely to die from a stroke than a white person.

Doctor McBurney said his data showed the average age of a stroke victim was around 70 years old for other ethnicities, but for African Americans, it was around 60.

In most cases, Dr. McBurney said the black patients were actually in better physical shape.

He said it’s not just genetics, but instead epigenetics, which lead to risk factors like hypertension.

“Those risk factors can be a direct reflection of lifestyle, behavioral, and social determinants of health on the physical manifestations of disease,” said Dr. McBurney.

He said being in a disadvantaged group and experiencing racial discrimination causes stress.

“And when you combine a psychological style of striving against that, combined with lower socio-economic status, it actually has been shown that that increases the risk of developing hypertension,” said Dr. McBurney.

Doctor Mcburney said preventative measures include exercise, knowing your numbers for blood pressure and cholesterol, and having a mind, body, or spiritual practice to deal with stress.

As for Hudson, he said he just wants people to be mindful to get checked out.

“Get checked out at least once a year,” Hudson said. “That’s how I was able to find out I had high blood pressure in my early 30’s.”

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