Research Highlights:

  • An analysis of more than 2,600 heart attack survivors, ages 55 years and younger, found that nearly 35% of them reported perceived discrimination in their everyday lives.
  • Participants who reported higher levels of perceived discrimination were more likely to report physical limitations and more frequent chest pain within one year of a heart attack.
  • One year after surviving a heart attack, people who reported more perceived discrimination were significantly more likely to report a lower quality of life and mental health status.

Embargoed until 4 a.m. CT/5 a.m. ET, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022

DALLAS, Oct. 31, 2022 — A study of more than 2,600 young heart attack survivors younger than age 55 found that those who reported more perceived discrimination in their day-to-day lives had a higher risk of worse outcomes in the year after a heart attack, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022. The meeting, held live in Chicago and virtually, Nov. 5–7, 2022, is a premier global exchange of the latest scientific advancements, research and evidence-based clinical practice updates in cardiovascular science.

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. Previous research suggests that perceived discrimination is associated with several risk factors for heart attack, however, little is known about the association between discrimination and health status outcomes after a heart attack.

“Perceived discrimination acts as a chronic stressor that adversely impacts cardiovascular disease through increased stress levels and inflammation,” said Andrew Arakaki, M.P.H. and a doctoral candidate in the department of chronic disease epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. “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.”

The researchers examined health data for participants in the VIRGO (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients) study to analyze post-heart attack health outcomes, including chest pain, physical limitations, patient-reported general physical and mental health status, treatment satisfaction and quality of life. Participants were ages 18-55 years old and had been hospitalized for a heart attack in the U.S. between 2008to 2012. Two-thirds of the 2670 participants (67%) were women; 76% self-identified as white adults, 17% as Black adults and 6% identified their race as “other,” which included American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander and East Indian. The researchers noted that Hispanic versus non-Hispanic was defined as an ethnicity separate from race, with 7.7% of participants identifying as Hispanic.

Participants completed three questionnaires at 1 month and 12 months post-heart attack to assess their level of perceived discrimination, heart attack recovery status (physical limitation and chest pain frequency), quality of life and general health status. They reported perceived discrimination of any type (such as racism and sexism), general physical and mental health status, heart attack recovery status, treatment satisfaction and quality of life with standardized research tools (Everyday Discrimination Scale; Short Form 12 scale; and Seattle Angina Questionnaire).  

The analyses of the questionnaires scores and data found:

  • Over one-third of the participants reported experiencing discrimination in their everyday lives.
  • Higher exposure to perceived discrimination was primarily associated with worse heart attack recovery status (indicated by lower scores on the Seattle Angina Questionnaire).
  • People with higher levels of perceived discrimination were more likely to report physical limitations and more frequent chest pain up to one year into the heart attack recovery period.
  • Patients who reported higher levels of perceived discrimination also reported worse mental health status, treatment satisfaction and quality of life within the first year after their heart attack.

“We were surprised to discover how common perceived discrimination was among participants in our study sample, and health care professionals should be aware that it appears to play an important role in patients’ recovery,” Arakaki said. “It’s also important to highlight that perceived discrimination had a larger impact on heart attack-specific outcomes compared to the general/generic measures of physical and mental health status. This indicates that perceived discrimination may be particularly important to consider when treating young patients (ages 18-55) recovering from a heart attack.”

“Future research is needed to understand how to support patients with high levels of perceived discrimination during heart attack recovery, and whether perceived discrimination is a stronger determinant of outcomes among people from diverse racial, ethnic or social groups or those who live in under-resourced communities, or if other social determinants of health may also play a role,” he added.

Because the majority of the participants were white and women and the analyses in this study did not include participants who did not complete the perceived discrimination questionnaire, its results may not be generalizable to the public. Future studies addressing perceived discrimination should include more people from diverse racial and ethnic groups. The study also did not assess the associations between specific types of discrimination (i.e., racism, sexism) and health outcomes.

“The findings regarding the relationship between perceived discrimination and health outcomes, quality of health outcomes, quality of life outcomes, and mental and physical health sharing an increased risk were not surprising given that we know that psychosocial stressors have an impact on cardiovascular health and cardiovascular disease,” said Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, president of the American Heart Association, the Walter A. Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair in Cardiology and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

“What is needed in the literature are studies that assess the relationship between everyday discrimination and specific cardiovascular health outcomes, as well as health outcomes in general, especially data at multiple time points,” she said. “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.”

Co-authors are Rachel P. Dreyer, Ph.D.; Terrence E. Murphy, Ph.D.; Katie Wang, Ph.D.; Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., S.M., FAHA; Yuan Lu, Sc.D.; Philip Adejumo, B.S.; Makoto Mori, M.D., Ph.D.; Gail D’Onofrio, M.D., M.S.; John A. Spertus, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA; and Judith H. Lichtman, Ph.D., M.P.H., FAHA. Authors’ disclosures are listed in the abstract.

Andrew Arakaki, M.P.H., is supported by a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The contents of this work are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Statements and conclusions of studies that are presented at the American Heart Association’s scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association’s policy or position. The Association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. Abstracts presented at the Association’s scientific meetings are not peer-reviewed, rather, they are curated by independent review panels and are considered based on the potential to add to the diversity of scientific issues and views discussed at the meeting. The findings are considered preliminary until published as a full manuscript in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

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Additional Resources:

The American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 is a premier global exchange of the latest scientific advancements, research and evidence-based clinical practice updates in cardiovascular science. The 3-day meeting will feature more than 500 sessions focused on breakthrough cardiovascular basic, clinical and population science updates occurring Saturday through Monday, November 5-7, 2022. Thousands of leading physicians, scientists, cardiologists, advanced practice nurses and allied health care professionals from around the world will convene virtually to participate in basic, clinical and population science presentations, discussions and curricula that can shape the future of cardiovascular science and medicine, including prevention and quality improvement. During the three-day meeting, attendees receive exclusive access to more than 4,000 original research presentations and can earn Continuing Medical Education (CME), Continuing Education (CE) or Maintenance of Certification (MOC) credits for educational sessions. Engage in Scientific Sessions 2022 on social media via #AHA22.

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