JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Arkansas has the highest stroke mortality rate in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to a study, 1,884 people died from stroke in 2006 in Arkansas. Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma are included in the top five states. Missouri is ranked 12th in the nation.
Dr. D.V. Patel told Region 8 News Tuesday he believes southern culture and a lack of education have helped fuel the death rate.
"Arkansas historically has been very high stroke and heart attack rate per capita," said Patel.
While the mortality rate is the highest in the country, it fell by two-percent from 2005. Heart disease and cancer are the top two causes of death in the state.
"There are a lot of theories about it, whether it be nutrition, whether it be lifestyle, whether it be obesity. The incidents of diabetes, the incidents of hypertension, these are all risk factors for stroke and heart disease," said Patel.
Patel said he wasn't surprised by the study, which said Arkansas is in the top ten for seven of the top ten leading causes of death.
"I think a lot of it has to do with recognition. I think a lot of it has to do with modification of lifestyle," said Patel. "It's the southern culture."
Patel said the number of strokes also varies in the state. He said stroke is more prevalent in northeast Arkansas and the Mississippi River Delta.
"We got to get more educated. We got to understand that our choices in life, whether it be living sedentary, meaning not doing a whole lot of activity or whether it mean not eating all the fried food in the world, or whether monitoring your blood pressure and controlling it, are important things in helping you prevent whether it be stroke, heart attack or whatever it may be," said Patel.
Patel told Region 8 News that access is a problem as well. He said hospitals in Jonesboro serve a population of nearly 500,000. He said that's because patients have to travel several miles.
"There's also an access issue in the sense that Arkansas has more rural areas than most other states so access to a stroke center or heart center is sometimes harder, especially in the delta, whereas the other side, access may be easier, so that also plays an issue," said Patel.
Patel said people need to take caution when choosing what to eat.
"Here's what I do recommend, you got 20 pieces of chocolate, eat one or a half. Don't go for ten and I think that's where we get into trouble, over indulgence," said Patel.
"The important thing is when you're talking about stroke or heart attack; you always worry about your risk factors. High blood pressure not being controlled is very important, whether it be obesity, taking steps in doing something about avoiding it or getting it treated," said Patel.