Stress, financial or otherwise, increases heart risks for African Americans

Two recent NHLBI-funded studies have found a particularly worrisome link between stress and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, in African Americans. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and African Americans are more likely to develop it than people from other racial and ethnic groups.

Using data from 2,256 participants of the Jackson Heart Study, researchers examined the association between the psychological stress of financial hardship and coronary heart disease. They found that African Americans who often experience moderate to high financial woes – struggle to pay regular bills, lack resources to respond to an emergency – may be more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts who don't face such financial stress.

The Jackson Heart Study, also funded by NHLBI, is a longitudinal cohort study of cardiovascular disease risks in African-American men and women living in the Jackson, Miss., area. The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Another study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that stressful life events were linked to higher incidents of heart attack, stroke and other types of cardiovascular disease in black women.

The research was based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative, also NHLBI-funded. Among 10,785 black postmenopausal women who were followed over an average of 12.5 years, those who experienced significant life events -- such as the death of a spouse or close friend, getting divorced, abuse, losing a job or having major financial problems – were more likely to have a cardiovascular event. Angina was the most common, followed by stroke, heart disease and congestive heart failure.

According to the study authors, stress may be particularly relevant for African-American women, given the discriminatory environment in which these women may live.