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

Elizabeth Brondolo, Erica E. Love, Melissa Pencille, Antoinette Schoenthaler, Gbenga Ogedegbe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BackgroundDespite 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.MethodsPublished empirical research in EBSCO databases investigating the relationships of three levels of racism (individual/interpersonal, internalized, and institutional racism) to HTN was reviewed.ResultsDirect 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.ConclusionsOverall 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-529
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Hypertension
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • ambulatory blood pressure
  • blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • racial discrimination
  • racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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