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A new study found that middle-aged Mexican-Americans faced double the risk of stroke compared with white people, with diabetes considered a major contributing factor.

Ischemic strokes are the most common and occur when an artery supplying blood to the brain is blocked.

The role of diabetes in the study is important because Mexican-Americans have a much higher rate of uncontrolled diabetes compared to whites, said Rajiv Patel, a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University and lead author of the study. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 18 percent of Mexican-American adults have diabetes, compared with 9.6 percent of white adults.

Diabetes is a principal risk factor for stroke because it contributes to plaque buildup in small blood vessels, including those in the brain, Patel said.

“We should be looking at major policy changes that affect the risk factors [such as] access to primary care prevention for Mexican-Americans to help decrease disparities, focusing on those upstream factors instead of the end result,” Patel said.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Stroke, Patel and his colleagues analyzed health data from 2000-2010 among 493 Mexican-American and 214 white stroke patients from Nueces County in South Texas between the ages of 45 and 59.

Another notable finding, Patel said, is that high blood pressure didn’t play as strong a role as expected in stroke risk differences for these subjects. The scientist said that may be because, overall, both whites and Mexican-Americans had a high prevalence of high blood pressure – which is considered a major risk factor for stroke.

Mexican-Americans in the study were less likely to have health insurance than their white peers, Patel said. That finding was troubling because those patients don’t have access to preventive services to manage chronic conditions that may lead to stroke, he said.

Neurologist Julius Gene S. Latorre, M.D., said primary care doctors should take note of the findings because they’re the front line for prevention.

Patients at risk for stroke also must play their part in preventing or controlling diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic problems, said Latorre, director of the comprehensive stroke program at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

“The best stroke is the stroke you never had,” said Latorre.