July 1 (UPI) -- Facing racial discrimination increases risk for high blood pressure among black Americans, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal Hypertension.
Black people who reported "medium levels" of lifetime discrimination had a 49 percent increased risk for high blood pressure, or hypertension, compared to those who indicated low levels of lifetime discrimination, the researchers found.
The study was based on nearly 2,000 black Americans who participated in The Jackson Heart Study, which focused on cardiovascular disease among residents in the tri-county region of Jackson, Mississippi.
"African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by hypertension, making it imperative to identify the drivers of hypertension in this population," co-author Allana T. Forde, said in a statement.
"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," said Forde, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Urban Health Collaborative at Drexel University.
Forde and colleagues reviewed data on 1,845 black Americans, aged 21 to 85, who were enrolled in The Jackson Heart Study. None of the participants had a history of hypertension at the start of the research, the authors said.
Participants self-reported their discrimination experiences through in-home interviews, questionnaires and in-clinic examinations, researchers said.
For the purposes of the study, having hypertension was defined 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, according to the authors.
During the follow-up period, more than half of the participants -- 954, or 52 percent -- developed hypertension.
The study results, Forde said, "suggest how social determinants such as racism and discrimination affect health in measurable ways."
Strategies to reduce health inequities and improve health are needed to address these broader social determinants, she added.
Although the study included experiences of discrimination among a large sample of black Americans, discrimination was measured at a single point in time, which limited the researchers' ability to capture changes in discrimination experiences over the entire follow-up period, according to the researchers.
In all, nearly 80 million American adults are living with high blood pressure, including more than 40 percent of black Americans, according to the American Heart Association.
"Previous studies have shown that discrimination affects African Americans' 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," she said.