Concerning Trend of Growing Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Rates in Black People

Eve Bender

October 27, 2022

Rates of subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) are increasing, particularly in Black people, new research suggests.

Results of a new study based on hospital discharge data show Black people have disproportionately high rates of SAH vs other racial groups. Compared with White and Hispanic people, who had an average of 10 cases per 100,000, or Asians, with 8 per 100,000 people, Black people had an average of 15 cases per 100,000 population.

Whereas case rates held steady for other racial groups in the study over a 10-year period, Black people were the only racial group for whom SAH incidence increased over time, at a rate of 1.8% per year.

Dr Fadar Oliver Otite

"Root causes of the higher SAH incidence in Blacks are complex and likely extend beyond simple differences in risk factor characteristics to other socioeconomic factors including level of education, poverty level, lack of insurance, access to quality care, and structural racism," study investigator Fadar Oliver Otite, MD, assistant professor of neurology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, told Medscape Medical News.

"Addressing this racial disparity will require multidisciplinary factors targeted not just at subarachnoid hemorrhage risk factors, but also at socioeconomic equity," he added.

The study was published online October 26 in Neurology.

Uncontrolled Hypertension

The average incidence of SAH for all participants was 11 cases per 100,00 people. Men had an average rate of 10 cases and women an average rate of 13 cases per 100,000.

As expected, incidence increased with age: for middle-aged men, the average was four cases per 100,000 people whereas for men 65 and older, the average was 22 cases.

Otite and his team combined US Census data with two state hospitalization databases in New York and Florida and found that there were nearly 40,000 people hospitalized for SAH between 2007 and 2017. To find annual incidences of SAH per 100,000 population, they calculated the number of SAH cases and the total adult population for the year.

"Smoking and hypertension are two of the strongest risk factors for subarachnoid hemorrhage," Otite said. "Hypertension is more prevalent in Black people in the US and Black patients with hypertension are more likely to have it uncontrolled." 

Racism, Toxic Stress

Commenting for Medscape Medical News, Anjail Sharieff, MD, associate professor of neurology at UT Health in Houston, Texas, said aside from a high rate of common SAH risk factors such as hypertension, Black Americans also face a barrage of inequities to health education and quality healthcare that contributes to higher SAH rates.

Dr Anjail Sharrief

"The impact of toxic stress related to racism and discrimination experiences, and chronic stress related to poverty, can contribute to hypertension in Black people," Sharieff said, adding that these factors contribute to stroke risk and are not usually accounted for in studies.

Sharieff said many of her first-time patients end up in her office due to a heart attack or stroke because they were previously uninsured and did not have access to primary care. "We need to begin leveraging trust with people in communities — meeting people where they are," to educate them about hypertension and other health issues, she said.

A shining example of community engagement to reduce hypertension in Black communities was the Cedars-Sinai Barbershop Study, where 52 barbershops in Los Angeles implemented blood pressure checks and interventions among customers. A year later, the project was still working.

"Once we can identify the health problems in Black communities," said Sharieff, "we can treat them."

Otite and Sharieff report no relevant financial relationships.

Neurology. Published online October 26, 2022. Abstract

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