Link between discrimination and hypertension among African Americans

Experiencing discrimination could increase the risk of high blood pressure for African Americans, according to new research. (Rawpixel pic)

PHILADELPHIA: New US research has found that experiencing a lifetime of discrimination may increase blood pressure in African Americans.

Carried out by researchers at the Urban Health Collaborative at Drexel University in Philadelphia, the new study looked at data gathered from 1,845 African Americans aged 21 to 85 who were taking part in The Jackson Heart Study, which looks at cardiovascular disease among African Americans in the tri-county areas of Jackson, Mississippi.

The participants, none of whom had hypertension (high blood pressure) when they completed their first visit between 2000 and 2004, were followed up with two other visits, the first between 2005 and 2008 and the second between 2009 to 2013.

During the follow-up visits, the participants were defined as having hypertension if they reported that they were taking blood pressure-lowering medication, or if they had a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or above or diastolic blood pressure higher than 90 mm Hg at follow-up visits.

They were also asked to self-report their experiences of discrimination through interviews, questionnaires and in-clinic examinations.

The findings, published Wednesday in “Hypertension”, an American Heart Association journal, showed that 52 percent of the participants developed hypertension.

Moreover, the participants who reported medium levels of lifetime discrimination had a 49% increased risk of hypertension compared to those who reported low levels of discrimination, even after taking into account other risk factors.

“Previous studies have shown that discrimination affects African Americans’ health; however, this research is one of the first large, community-based studies to suggest an association between discrimination over a lifetime and the development of hypertension among a large sample of African American men and women,” said Allana T Forde, PhD, MPH, the study’s first author.

“African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by hypertension, making it imperative to identify the drivers of hypertension in this population,” Forde said.

“Greater lifetime discrimination was associated with an increased risk for hypertension among African Americans in this study, which reflects the impact of cumulative exposure to stressors over one’s lifetime and the physiological reactions to stress that contribute to deleterious health outcomes.”

“The study has important implications for patient care and population health,” Forde said.

“Traditional risk factors, such as diet and physical activity, have been strongly correlated with hypertension, yet 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.”