Long-term discrimination may increase hypertension among African Americans

Frustrated African American male at work

Chronic exposure to discrimination could increase the risk of high blood pressure in African Americans, according to recent findings from the Jackson Heart Study.

Researchers reviewed data on 1,845 African Americans between the ages of 21 and 85 who enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study — the largest investigation of causes of cardiovascular disease in African Americans. These participants did not have high blood pressure during their initial exam in 2000 through 2004. Participants also completed two more study follow-up visits: one in 2005 through 2008, and the third between 2009 through 2013.

Researchers defined high blood pressure as taking blood pressure-lowering medication, having a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or above, or having diastolic blood pressure higher than 90 mm Hg at follow-up visits. And participants reported discrimination experiences during in-home interviews, questionnaires and during in-clinic exams.

During the follow-up period, over half of the participants developed high blood pressure. And participants who reported moderate levels compared to low levels of discrimination had a 49% increased risk for high blood pressure after accounting for traditional risk factors of high blood pressure. These results add to the body of knowledge on the impact of discrimination on the health of African Americans. The study, published in the journal Hypertension, was funded by NHLBI.