Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Mechanisms of Vascular Dysfunction

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2019 Oct 1;317(4):H777-H789. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00126.2019. Epub 2019 Aug 9.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for a third of all deaths in the United States making it the leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Although CVD affects individuals of all races/ethnicities, the prevalence of CVD is highest in non-Hispanic black (BL) individuals relative to other populations. The mechanism(s) responsible for elevated CVD risk in the BL population remains incompletely understood. However, impaired vascular vasodilator capacity and exaggerated vascular vasoconstrictor responsiveness are likely contributing factors, both of which are present even in young, otherwise healthy BL individuals. Within this review, we highlight some historical and recent data, collected from our laboratories, of impaired vascular function, in terms of reduced vasodilator capacity and heightened vasoconstrictor responsiveness, in the peripheral and cerebral circulations in BL individuals. We provide data that such impairments may be related to elevated oxidative stress and subsequent reduction in nitric oxide bioavailability. In addition, divergent mechanisms of impaired vasodilatory capacity between BL men and women are discussed. Finally, we propose several directions where future research is needed to fill in knowledge gaps, which will allow for better understanding of the mechanisms contributing to impaired vascular function in this population. Ultimately, this information will allow for better lifestyle and therapeutic approaches to be implemented in an effort to minimize the increased CVD burden in the BL population.

Keywords: African American; hypertension; vascular function; vasoconstriction; vasodilation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • Blood Vessels / metabolism
  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / ethnology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Arteries / metabolism
  • Cerebral Arteries / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vasoconstriction*
  • Vasodilation*


  • Nitric Oxide