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Researchers Discover Link Between Discrimination and Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure

The Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) published a report that shows an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure in individuals who experience discrimination.

The study's researchers defined discrimination as "unfair conditions or unpleasant treatment at work because of personal characteristics, particularly race, sex, or age." Between 2004 and 2006, these researchers collected baseline data with the subjects and then followed up approximately eight years later. They excluded individuals who reported high-blood pressure at the start. Of the 1,246 adults selected, representing a range of job sectors and education levels, people who felt they faced workplace discrimination were 54% more likely to develop hypertension. Individuals who did not perceive discrimination saw a 2.5% increase in high blood pressure compared to about 4% each year of those experiencing discrimination. Ninety-three percent of the study's participants were white, and about 52% were women. In addition, a third of the participants were younger than 45, a third were between 46 and 55, and the remaining third were over 56.

While the study cannot definitively pinpoint workplace discrimination as a cause of high blood pressure, the data indicates it is a potential risk factor. Because the study followed these workers over a period of time, the researchers could see that the discriminatory conduct began before any increases in their blood pressure. With the participants being predominantly white, and the information gathered self-reported, the value of the study is limited. However, the AHA's chief medical officer points to a growing body of evidence supporting the idea that work should be considered an important social determinant of health. When physicians learn about discrimination in the workplace, they can advise patients about potential health risks.