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Brain attack Know your risk of suffering a deadly or debilitating stroke By Donya Arias
Stroke is a leading killer and cause of disability for all Americans, especially blacks

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Date published: 5/21/2006

Dr. Leonard Edloe has banned salt shakers from his church, and he preaches health along with the Gospel every Sunday.

That's because his congregation in Mathews County, at the tip of Virginia's Middle Peninsula, like every black American community, faces a high risk of dying from or being paralyzed by a stroke.

Stroke is the No. 3 killer and the leading cause of disability for all Americans, but black Americans' stroke risk is almost twice that of whites'.

Yet health and community advocates such as Edloe, a pharmacist and pastor, stress that stroke is both largely preventable and treatable--provided people are aware of risk factors and warning signs.

As an example, one reason the rate of stroke is so high among black Americans is that the population faces high rates of high blood pressure, one of the main risk factors for stroke. Sodium in the diet can be a big contributor to high blood pressure, hence Edloe's salt-shaker ban.

"I've taken about all the salt I can out of my diet," said Edloe, 58, who also takes blood-pressure medication and exercises regularly because of his family history of stroke--another risk factor.

His mother died of a stroke. His grandfather was severely disabled for years from a stroke. And his once-vibrant uncle, a mentor Edloe admired for his command of the pulpit, suddenly showed up at church one day in a wheelchair.

"The stroke got me, brother," Edloe remembers his uncle saying. A year later, his uncle was dead.

About 700,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year, and 162,000 will die, according to the American Stroke Association. While there are 4.7 million American stroke survivors and up to 70 percent of them are able to live independently, chances of a full recovery are higher for whites than for blacks.

As with the racial and ethnic disparities linked to many health conditions, researchers are working to pinpoint why stroke is more deadly and prevalent among blacks. Some statistics give a hint: Black Americans have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, not to mention high blood pressure, the so-called "silent killer" that can also bring on heart attacks.

Protecting the brain

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