Racism Can Increase Risk of High Blood Pressure in Blacks

In a new study, scientists have found that a lifetime of exposure to the stresses of discrimination may increase the risk of high blood pressure in African Americans. These findings were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

It has been known for quite some time now that high blood pressure affects African Americans disproportionately compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

The disease in itself can quietly damage the body for years before symptoms develop. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to disability, a poor quality of life, or even a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Owing to these factors it is important to understand why African Americans are more affected by this health condition. Research into the subject has identified many traditional risk factors, such as diet and physical activity, which have been strongly correlated with hypertension.

But important psychosocial factors like discrimination, which also have the potential to negatively impact health, are rarely considered when evaluating the risk for hypertension among African Americans in health care settings.

Source: CDC

This new research is one of the first large scale and community-based study of its type to suggest an association between discrimination over a lifetime and the development of hypertension among a large sample of African American men and women.

The researchers while assessing the relationship between discrimination and health outcomes found out that there is a huge impact of cumulative exposure to stressors over one’s lifetime on health.

In order to make this discovery, scientists accumulated data on 1,845 African Americans ages 21 to 85 enrolled in The Jackson Heart Study, which is a long-term project looking at heart disease among African Americans near Jackson, Mississippi.

The discrimination experiences experienced by the subjects were self-reported through in-home interviews, questionnaires and in-clinic exams.

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Subjects were defined as having hypertension if they said they were taking blood pressure-lowering medication or had a systolic blood pressure of 140 or above or diastolic blood pressure of 90 or above at follow-up visits.

At the start of the study participants did not have high blood pressure. During the follow-up years, which involved two more visits between 2005 and 2013, more than half of the participants (52 percent) developed hypertension.

On the other hand, people who had experienced medium levels of lifetime discrimination compared to low levels had a 49 percent increased chance of hypertension, even after accounting for other risk factors.

Previously other research studies have shown that more than 40 percent of African American men and women have high blood pressure. Black adults are also up to two times more likely to develop high blood pressure by age 55 compared to whites, with many of these racial differences developing before age 30.

Hypertension can be controlled and managed in a variety of manners according to American Medical Association. Experts have suggested that people who adhere to strict measures such as DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which limits salt intake and promotes a heart-healthy diet, have lower risk for hypertension.

Other ways that can help control high blood pressure include, maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption, managing stress, and keeping a close eye on blood pressure levels at home.

Source: American Heart Association

This new study also highlights the need for health care professionals to recognize discrimination as a social determinant of health.

Racial discrimination is any discrimination against individuals on the basis of their skin color, or racial or ethnic origin and is just one of the psychosocial stresses such as occupational stress, housing instability, social isolation that black people go through.

This kind of discrimination over the years has shown to be associated with adverse health outcomes.

It has been seen that African American patients tend to receive lower-quality health services, including for cancer, HIV, prenatal care and preventive care. They are also less likely to receive treatment for cardiovascular disease, and they are more likely to have unnecessary limb amputations. African American men, in particular, have the worst health outcomes of any major demographic group.

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