What do I need to know about stroke if I am South Asian?
In the UK, people of South Asian origins are more likely to have a stroke at a younger age than the general population. The reasons for this are complex and we are still trying to learn more.
One reason is that South Asian people are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, which is a major risk factor for stroke.
You might also be more likely to have high blood pressure, which causes around half of all strokes. But your chances of having high blood pressure can depend on where in South Asia your family is from, as well as things like your weight, smoking and exercise levels.
South Asian people are around twice as likely to develop diabetes as the rest of the UK population, and are likely to develop it at an earlier age. They may also develop complications of diabetes like heart disease and stroke at a younger age.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes happens when the body can’t control the amount of sugar in the blood. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.
Having diabetes almost doubles your risk of stroke, and contributes to up to one in five strokes. Diabetes causes high levels of sugar in your blood, which damages your blood vessels. Arteries can become harder and narrower and more likely to become blocked. This can lead to clots forming and causing a stroke.
Should I be tested for diabetes?
If you have signs of diabetes, it’s a good idea to visit your GP. These can include being very thirsty, needing to wee more than usual, and feeling very hungry and tired.
You can be more likely to have diabetes if other close family members have it. If you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) this makes you more likely to develop diabetes later in life.
What can I do about diabetes?
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you should 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.
Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed by making changes to your lifestyle, such as eating healthy food or doing more exercise. Some people need to take medication such as metformin or insulin, depending on the kind of diabetes you have.
High blood pressure
Blood pressure is the measure of how strongly your blood presses against the walls of your arteries when it is pumped around your body.
High blood pressure puts additional strain on all the blood vessels in your body, including the ones supplying your brain. The damage caused by high blood pressure can lead to a stroke due to a blood clot or a burst blood vessel in the brain.
What can I do about high blood pressure?
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so you need to have your blood pressure measured regularly. All adults over 18 should have their blood pressure measured at least every five years. However, if you are over 40, have blood pressure above 130/85 mmHg or are overweight, you should get your blood pressure checked more often - ideally 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.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you may be given medication. Taking your medication consistently can be one of the best things you can do to avoid a stroke.
You can get help and advice from your GP or pharmacist on making any lifestyle changes you need, such as losing weight, being more active and giving up smoking.
Reducing the amount of salt you have can also make a big difference. 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, sauces and snacks like chevda, ganthia, sev and salted nuts. 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.
South Asian people tend to have similar levels of cholesterol when compared to the UK general population. However, some research suggests that South Asian people tend to have lower levels of ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL), and that their ‘bad cholesterol’ (LDL) is more likely to cause fatty deposits in their arteries compared to people from other ethnic groups.
On top of that, South Asian people tend to have higher levels of triglycerides, another type of fatty substance in the body. This is linked to a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Should I have my cholesterol checked?
High cholesterol usually has no symptoms, so you need to have your cholesterol level checked, especially if you are over 40. You should think about being tested if you have a history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family.
If you are diabetic, you should have a yearly cholesterol check. And if you are overweight, have high blood pressure or are a smoker you may have higher levels of cholesterol. Your GP or nurse can check your cholesterol level with a simple blood test.
What can I do about high cholesterol?
If you have high cholesterol, you will be offered statin medication. Following your treatment can be one of the main ways to avoid a stroke. You can also make changes to your diet to help reduce your cholesterol levels. You can try replacing saturated fats such as butter or ghee with small amounts of unsaturated fat such as peanut oil or soya oil.
South Asian people tend to carry more weight around their waist than the rest of the population. This can make you more likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems.
Another way of measuring obesity is BMI, or body mass index. This shows whether you are the right weight for your height. The ideal BMI for the main population is 25, but people from South Asian ethnic groups should aim to keep below a BMI of 23. This is because of the higher risk of diabetes, high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure in South Asian groups.
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