Discrimination, stress can add to heart health woes for LGBTQ people

As part of National LGBT Health Awareness Week, the American Heart Association is highlighting factors affecting LGBTQ health, citing the organization’s 2020 study showing the community experiences high rates of discrimination in health care settings.

During the pandemic, isolation from family and friends took an emotional toll for sure. But it took a physical toll even on those who did not contract the virus because many people skipped routine medical exams or renewing needed prescriptions.

But LGBTQ adults have been delaying medical exams since long before the pandemic.

According to the American Heart Association, 56 percent of LGBTQ adults, including 70 percent who are transgender, report experiencing some form of discrimination by a health care professional. About 13 percent of older LGBTQ adults report actually being denied health care or being given poor health care because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fear of discrimination leads to delays in getting proper preventive care. And evidence shows stress affecting mental health has an impact on heart health.
LGBTQ people often face unique forms of stress, including rejection by family or the stress of hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity from family. Fear of losing a job or housing because of LGBTQ status also causes stress.

And all that stress can contribute to increased inflammation, which affects heart health.

Older LGBTQ adults are more likely than heterosexuals to smoke, drink excessively and report depression, according to the study. Lesbian and bisexual women have a higher prevalence of obesity than heterosexual women.

In their recommendations to improve LGBTQ health, the American Heart Association suggests adding LGBTQ-related content to health care professional training and licensure requirements. In a 2018 online survey of medical students from 10 schools, about 80 percent reported they didn’t feel competent to provide care for transgender patients.

Also recommended is including sexual orientation and gender identity in electronic health records to address specific health concerns for LGBTQ patients.

— Compiled via reports from the American Heart Association