Experiencing discrimination has long been associated with risk factors for myocardial infarction (MI). But new research suggests that perceptions of discrimination could also affect the health status of individuals following a MI.
In a study of more than 2600 heart attack survivors, those who perceived more discrimination in their daily lives were at higher risk for worse outcomes than those who experienced little or no discrimination in the year following an MI. Perceived discrimination refers to the perception of being treated unfairly in day-to-day interactions because of personal characteristics, such as race, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
Results of the study were presented during the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago.
The authors arrived at their conclusions after analyzing data on post-MI health outcomes among participants in the “Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients” study. The outcomes they looked at included chest pain, physical limitations, patient-reported general physical and mental health status, treatment satisfaction and overall quality of life. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 55 years. About two-thirds were women and 76% self-identified as White, with the rest comprised of Black adults and “other.”
Participants were asked to complete 3 questionnaires at 1 month and 12 months post-heart attack to assess their level of perceived discrimination, MI recovery status—as measured by physical limitation and chest pain frequency—quality of life and general health status. In addition, they reported perceived discrimination of any type, general physical and mental health status, MI recovery status, treatment satisfaction and quality of life.
Analyses of the questionnaires scores and data revealed that:
“Perceived discrimination acts as a chronic stressor that adversely impacts cardiovascular disease through increased stress levels and inflammation,” Andrew Arakaki, MPH one of the study’s authors and a doctoral candidate in the department of chronic disease epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health said in a press release. “Perceived discrimination is also associated with other psychosocial factors, such as low social support and distrust in the health care system, which may affect patients’ recovery after a heart attack.”
Arakaki said the research demonstrates the important role that perceived discrimination plays in determining heart attack-specific outcomes compared to the general/generic measures of physical and mental health status. He and the other authors cautioned that since the majority of the study’s participants were white and women, and the data analyses didn’t include those who didn’t complete the perceived discrimination questionnaire, the results may not be generalizable to the public.
Michelle A. Albert, MD, MPH, president of the AHA, said the study shows that “Health care professionals need to really understand the impact of structural racism and structural discrimination on health outcomes within this vein. That means that we need to double down on having culturally competent doctors and other health care professionals who understand the lived experiences of their patients, as well as who will listen to the concerns of their patients.”
Study abstract: Arakaki AJ, Dreyer RP, Murphy T, et al. Evaluating the association between perceived discrimination and health status outcomes among young adults hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction. Abstract presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2022; November 1-4, 2022; Chicago, IL.