Two recent studies revealed a troubling public health crisis.
In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) published an insightful report about the health impact of discrimination. According to the report, groups facing discrimination in the United States experience higher stress levels and face greater health challenges.
Americans who identify as LGBTQ are no exception. Recent research has found a concerning link between poor heart health and LGBTQ adults.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults have a higher risk of having markers of poor heart health, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a 2018 study from Circulation journal. High blood pressure increases the risk of many conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and vascular dementia.
Furthermore, another 2019 study from Circulation found that transgender men and women were two to four times more likely to experience a heart attack, compared to cisgender men and women.
So what’s the deal?
LGBTQ individuals can face many unique obstacles and stressors. Starting as teenagers, many may face bullying or harassment that continues into adulthood. While some individuals may have great family support, others may lack the love, safety, and care of an accepting family. LGBTQ individuals may also face discrimination in the workplace, or while trying to marry or become parents.
As a result, LGBTQ individuals are almost twice as likely to have anxiety or depression as heterosexuals. Mental illness can be devastating to deal with on its own, but anxiety and depression can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits that can hurt physical health as well.
For example, people with mental illnesses are more likely to smoke cigarettes, use drugs, abuse alcohol, skip exercise, and eat an unhealthy diet (especially one high in dietary fat, refined carbs, and sodium). All of these unhealthy habits can have a negative effect on heart health. For example, here are the health risks of a high-salt diet.
But that’s not all: Some LGBTQ adults worry about discrimination by their doctors. This may lead them to avoid their crucial annual visits or delay seeing a doctor despite problematic symptoms.
Individuals can control their other risk factors—such as diet and exercise—to improve their own heart health; however, improving mental and physical health among LGBTQ adults is a public health concern that requires commitment from everyone. Making health spaces more LGBTQ-friendly and dismantling homophobia and transphobia in the United States are just as important.
2015 Stress in America: the impact of discrimination. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Accessed on May 14, 2019 at https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/impact.)
Alzahrani T, Nguyen T, Ryan A, Dwairy A, McCaffrey J, Yunus R, Forgione J, et al. Cardiovascular disease risk factors and myocardial infarction in the transgender population. Circulation. 2019 Apr 1;12.
More attention should be paid to heart health of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, study suggests. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2018. (Accessed on May 14, 2019 at https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/10/18/more-attention-should-be-paid-to-heart-health-of-lesbian-gay-and-bisexual-adults-study-suggests.)
Saxena A, Rubens M, Das S, Rajan T, Grandhi G, Arias L, et al. Abstract P001: LGB health disparities: examining the status of cardiovascular health from the 2011-2012 NHANES survey. Circulation. 2018 Mar 20;137.
Transgender men and women may have higher heart attack risk. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2019. (Accessed on May 14, 2019 at https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/04/05/transgender-men-and-women-may-have-higher-heart-attack-risk.)
Understanding anxiety and depression for LGBTQ people. Silver Spring, MD: Anxiety and Depression Association of America.