Racism and hypertension: a review of the empirical evidence and implications for clinical practice

Am J Hypertens. 2011 May;24(5):518-29. doi: 10.1038/ajh.2011.9. Epub 2011 Feb 17.


Background: Despite improved hypertension (HTN) awareness and treatment, racial disparities in HTN prevalence persist. An understanding of the biopsychosocial determinants of HTN is necessary to address racial disparities in the prevalence of HTN. This review examines the evidence directly and indirectly linking multiple levels of racism to HTN.

Methods: Published empirical research in EBSCO databases investigating the relationships of three levels of racism (individual/interpersonal, internalized, and institutional racism) to HTN was reviewed.

Results: Direct evidence linking individual/interpersonal racism to HTN diagnosis is weak. However, the relationship of individual/interpersonal racism to ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) is more consistent, with all published studies reporting a positive relationship of interpersonal racism to ABP. There is no direct evidence linking internalized racism to BP. Population-based studies provide some evidence linking institutional racism, in the forms of residential racial segregation (RRS) and incarceration, to HTN incidence. Racism shows associations to stress exposure and reactivity as well as associations to established HTN-related risk factors including obesity, low levels of physical activity and alcohol use. The effects vary by level of racism.

Conclusions: Overall the findings suggest that racism may increase risk for HTN; these effects emerge more clearly for institutional racism than for individual level racism. All levels of racism may influence the prevalence of HTN via stress exposure and reactivity and by fostering conditions that undermine health behaviors, raising the barriers to lifestyle change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / ethnology*
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Class