Indigenous Populations May Be at Higher Stroke Risk

In the U.S. and other highly developed countries, Indigenous populations may have a higher stroke rate, a study finds.

Every year, nearly 12 million people worldwide have a stroke, also called a brain attack, which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Despite extensive research on stroke diagnosis and treatment, there is little known about its impact on Indigenous populations — more than 370 million people living across 70 countries worldwide.

To narrow the knowledge gap, researchers studied 24 peer-reviewed studies and abstracts from seven highly developed countries from 1990 to 2022 that looked at stroke among Indigenous adults.

Compared with respective non-Indigenous populations, the study found age-standardized stroke rate in American Indians was 20% greater than non-Hispanic white populations.

The stroke rates were about two to three times greater in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and almost twice as great in Singaporean Malay populations. In Sweden and Norway, Sámi populations have 8% to two times higher stroke rates.

These preliminary findings of the study will be presented Friday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Dallas.

"These findings reflect the overall impact of colonization on health in these populations," said Anna Balabanski, a neurologist and stroke physician at Alfred Health in Melbourne, Australia.

"If you don't have access to education, work, or healthy food, or if you have to travel hundreds of kilometers to see a doctor, those factors may predispose you to poor health."

In case of a stroke, act fast

It is crucial to be able to recognize signs of stroke because a quick response may lessen the brain damage or even save a life. The stroke signs may include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially if it affects only one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

The treatments for stroke are the most effective within three hours of the first symptoms. If you suspect that a person may be having a stroke, try the F.A.S.T. test:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile and see if one side of the face droops this could be a sign of a stroke.

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. One arm drifting downward could mean a person is having a stroke.

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase to see if they can do it clearly.

T—Time: Call 911 if you see any of these signs.

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