Racism and High Blood Pressure Link Suggested in Research in Black Patients

Brie Zeltner, The Plain Dealer, August 13, 2013

Black patients who worry or think frequently about race have higher blood pressure than those who don’t, according to new study by a research group based at Johns Hopkins University.

The research, based on surveys of 266 patients in urban health clinics in Baltimore between September 2003 and August 2005, adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a connection between racism and high blood pressure, and may help explain the huge disparity in blood pressure levels between African Americans in the United States and other races.

Black patients have the highest blood pressure rates in the nation—and among the highest in the world: 43 percent of black men and 45.7 percent of black women have high blood pressure in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s compared to about 33.9 percent for white men and 31.3 percent for white women, and 34 percent for all American men and 33 percent for all women.

In the current study, published online today in the American Journal of Hypertension, the authors (from Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Maryland, Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory University) used an existing sociological survey created by the Centers for Disease Control to assess race consciousness.

Patients who participated were asked how often they think about race using the 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and were divided into those who “ever” think about race, and those who “never” do.

Thinking about race as a black patient was associated with a roughly five point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the “bottom” blood pressure number) and about a four point increase in systolic blood pressure (the “top” blood pressure number) compared to black patients who said they never thought about race. There was no effect on blood pressure in race-conscious white patients.

About half of the black patients in the survey were likely to ever think about race compared to about 1 in 5 of the white patients.

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