Latinos most at risk for strokes

March 2, 2009 8:32:13 PM PST
Health care groups in the South Bay are working to reach a segment of the population at particular risk of dying from a stroke: Latinos.

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The campaign, recently launched by the American Heart Association hopes to change several dangerous trends within the community.

"I knew I was having a stroke," recalled stroke survivor Vangi Uribe.

It has taken Uribe years of rehab to recover from a stroke that seemed to hit her out of nowhere. But, after becoming active in a support network she has noticed a pattern among many Latino patients.

"A lot of people, they hear my symptoms. They say, 'That's what my aunt had. That's what my uncle had,'" she told ABC7.

Research shows Latinos fall victim to hemorrhagic strokes at the highest rate of any minority group.

"If you look at the overall population, the average age of the first stroke, it's 80 in the general population. If you look at the Latino population, its 67," says Dr. Cesar Molina.

Molina is the medical director of the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. He is also helping to lead a campaign by the American Heart Association to educate the Latino community.

"There's no question that genes load the gun. But, the behaviors pull the trigger," he says.

Molina says obesity is more prevalent among Latinos than non-Latino-whites.

Organizers plan to launch workshops at local community health centers to help improve diet and exercise habits. But, the campaign's most critical message may also be the most direct. And, that's to learn the symptoms of a stroke and if you seen them, to call 911 immediately.

Some of those symptoms are sudden weakness on one side of the face or body, dizziness and loss of speech or vision.

"If one day you can't remember and another moment you can't talk... Even if it gets better you have to pay attention to it. And, you can't go to bed and see if you get better in the morning," Molina said.

At clinics like the Gardner Health Center in San Jose, directors say they sometimes see patients with stroke symptoms who walk in for treatment to avoid the cost of calling an ambulance, or heading directly to the emergency room.

"When we see them it might be $35. If they go to another facility, emergency angiogram, CT scan, that can be hundreds of dollars," said Dr. Ricardo Lopez at the Gardner Health Center.

But, it is a delay in care that stroke experts say can be deadly. Vangi Uribe believes she is alive because her husband did not wait to call 9-1-1.

She says, "It's fatal to do that."

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