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Former Inmates at Increased Risk for High Blood Pressure

And they're more likely to lack treatment for it years after freedom, study finds

TUESDAY, April 14, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults who are former prison inmates are at increased risk for high blood pressure and a related heart condition called left ventricular hypertrophy, a U.S. study finds.

The researchers also found that inmates have less access to regular medical care than the general population.

The study examined data on 4,350 participants in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, who were aged 18 to 30 when they were enrolled in the study in 1985-86. The participants' heart health factors were assessed at two, five, seven, 10, 15 and 20 years after the start of the study. Of the more than 4,000 participants, 288 (7 percent) reported being in prison one year prior to or two years after enrollment.

The study found that former inmates were more likely to have high blood pressure as young adults than those who were never in prison (12 percent vs. 7 percent three to five years later) and were also more likely to have left ventricular hypertrophy (2 percent vs. 0.6 percent), which is a common consequence of high blood pressure.

"Former inmates were also more likely to lack treatment for their hypertension at the year seven examination (17 percent vs. 41 percent), and in each of the follow-up visits during the entire 20-year duration of the CARDIA study," wrote Dr. Emily A. Wang, of the San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

Commonly cited factors such as drug and alcohol use, obesity and lower socioeconomic status may not entirely explain the association between prison time and increased risk of high blood pressure, the researchers said. They suggested other factors that may play a role, including increased hostility and stress, which may raise levels of hormones that contribute to high blood pressure.

The study was published in the April 13 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"For the more than 7 million people that pass through U.S. jails and prisons each year, incarceration may be an independent risk factor for the development of hypertension and left ventricular hypertrophy, both of which put such persons at higher risk for clinical cardiovascular disease," Wang and colleagues concluded. "Incarceration may be a cause for hypertension and cardiovascular disease, but may also present an underused opportunity for intervention and improving health and access to health care."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about high blood pressure.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, April 13, 2009
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