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Can Experiencing Discrimination Affect Your Heart Health?

Can Experiencing Discrimination Affect Your Heart Health?

COVID-19 has shed light on health disparities, with high blood pressure and heart disease placing many black people at a higher risk of death or serious illness from the virus.

Racial disparities have been well-documented among the black community. They fare worse than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States for hypertension and have the highest mortality rate for coronary heart disease. Black patients also have a higher prevalence of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like diabetes and obesity. But, could the reasons be more psychological than physical?

A recent American Heart Association study showed an association between experiencing discrimination over a lifetime and developing high blood pressure. Researchers found that physiological reactions to stress can contribute to worse health outcomes. Discrimination may also lead to the development of hypertension through unhealthy behaviors that may serve as coping mechanisms for the stress.

The study has important implications for patient care and population health, and brings awareness to the need for health care professionals to recognize social determinants of health, like discrimination.

Health disparities are rooted in the history of race and medicine in the U.S. In one study, researchers found a strong association between perceived discrimination and medical mistrust. They found that Black participants were 73% more likely to report mistrust in health professionals. Not having a consistent health professional also correlated with greater levels of mistrust.

While there are many factors outside of your control, there is a lot you can control. Here are some steps toward a healthier heart:

  • Visit your doctor regularly
  • Watch for signs and symptoms
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Get moving
  • Don’t smoke

Antoine Keller, MD
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Cardiovascular & Thoracic Specialists
(225) 237-1515