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What do I need to know about stroke if I am African Caribbean? 
High blood pressure
Salt 
Diabetes
Sickle cell disease (SCD)
Lupus (SLE)
Waist size and BMI 
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If you are of African Caribbean origin you may have a higher risk of stroke than other people in the UK. But there are things you can do to stay healthy and avoid a stroke.

What do I need to know about stroke if I am African Caribbean?

Studies show that if you are of African or Caribbean origin you are twice as likely to have a stroke, and at a younger age, than the rest of the UK population.

Part of the reason for this is that you are more likely to have health conditions that put you at risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes and sickle cell disease.

It’s also thought that African and Caribbean people may be more likely to carry weight around their waist. A larger waist size increases your risk of having a stroke, and makes you more likely to develop blood pressure and diabetes.

High blood pressure

African Caribbean people are more likely to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the biggest single risk factor for stroke, and it contributes to around half of all strokes.

High blood pressure puts a strain on all the blood vessels in your body, including the ones supplying blood to your brain. This can damage the blood vessels, making a clot or a bleed in the brain more likely.

Should I get my blood pressure checked?
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms so the only way to check is to have your blood pressure measured regularly. All adults over 18 should have their blood pressure measured at least every five years. If you are over 40, have high blood pressure or are overweight you should get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. This can be done by your GP or nurse, or you can check it yourself with a home testing device.

​Medication for high blood pressure
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you may be given medication. Certain types of blood pressure medication work better for African Caribbean people, and you can discuss the treatment options with your GP.

Taking your blood pressure medication consistently can be one of the best things you can do to avoid a stroke. 

Salt

Reducing the amount of salt you have can also make a big difference to blood pressure.  We all need a small amount of salt in our diets but the most we should have in a day is 6 g (or a teaspoon) of salt.

Much of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods such as ready meals, crisps, nuts and biscuits, as well as salt fish, corned beef, bacon, salt pork and processed meats. Keep these as an occasional treat and avoid adding salt to food when you’re cooking or at the table. Using spices and lemon juice can add flavour to replace the taste of salt.

Pre-mixed flavourings such as jerk seasoning or curry powders can also be high in salt. Try using fresh ginger, lemon juice and chillies or dried herbs and spices like paprika or pimento to flavour food instead. Also avoid adding salt to food at the table.

Diabetes

Having diabetes almost doubles your risk of stroke, and contributes to up to one in five strokes. It is up to three times more common among black African and black Caribbean people compared to the rest of the UK population. And people in this group are also more likely to develop complications like heart disease and stroke at a younger age.

Diabetes causes high levels of sugar in your blood, which damages your blood vessels. This can lead to clots forming and causing a stroke.

Should I be tested for diabetes?
If you are African Caribbean and aged 25 or over, you can ask for a diabetes check. You’re more likely to have diabetes if a close family member has it too. If you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), you’re more likely to develop it later in life.

It’s a good idea to be tested if you have high blood pressure, or there is a history of heart disease or stroke in your family. Being overweight also makes diabetes more likely.

What can I do about diabetes?
If you have diabetes, you will have regular check-ups with your GP or at a diabetes clinic to make sure your blood glucose and blood pressure stay at healthy levels. Some people need to take medication such as metformin or insulin, depending on the kind of diabetes you have.

Type 2 diabetes can be helped by making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating healthy food or doing more exercise. You can read more about diabetes and stroke.

Sickle cell disease (SCD)

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a disorder that affects red blood cells. Children with SCD are three times more likely to have a stroke, and about a sixth of all people with sickle cell disease will have had at least one stroke by the age of 45. 

Blood cells are normally round and flexible, but in people with sickle cell disease they become stiff and crescent or sickle-shaped. This can lead them to block blood vessels and disrupt blood flow, causing painful episodes.

How is sickle cell diagnosed?
Sickle cell disorders can be detected with a blood test. All newborn babies in the UK are checked for SCD. Around 10,000 people in the UK have sickle cell disease and it mostly affects people of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Mediterranean origin.

What can I do about sickle cell disease?
Although SCD cannot be cured, treatment can reduce its symptoms and the risk of complications. You should have help from a specialist medical team to help you manage the condition and avoid a stroke.

Children with SCD should have a transcranial Doppler (TCD) scan every year from the age of two. This scan uses ultrasound to measure the flow of blood through your brain, and spot any potential problems.

If the scan shows that you are at a high risk of stroke, you might need more regular scans, and you might have blood transfusions to treat the SCD.

Lupus (SLE)

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is often just known as lupus, is an auto-immune condition that mainly affects women. It tends to appear more often among people of African, Caribbean and Asian descent, but anyone can be affected. 

Lupus mainly affects the skin and joints, but can also involve internal organs such as your heart and kidneys. Damage to the kidney may lead to high blood pressure, which contributes to the risk of a stroke. 

There is no cure for lupus itself, but you can treat the symptoms such as pain and high blood pressure. If you have lupus, your kidneys should be monitored, and kidney problems can be treated with immunosuppressants. 

Waist size and BMI

African and Caribbean people tend to carry more weight around their waist than the rest of the population. If you carry extra weight around your waist you are more likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure or other health problems.

BMI if you are African Caribbean
Another way of looking at body weight is BMI, or body mass index. This shows whether you are the right weight for your height.

The general population should have a BMI below 25, but people from African and Caribbean ethnic groups should aim to keep below a BMI of 23. This is because people in this group already have a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.

If you need to lose weight or become more active, speak to your GP or pharmacist about the support available locally. 

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