Impairment of arterial dilation is thought to occur earlier than arterial wall thickening in the atherosclerotic process. In comparison with whites, African Americans reportedly have a generalized attenuation of their vasodilation mechanisms. We set out to evaluate arterial stiffness and its correlates by ethnicity, hypothesizing that African Americans would have stiffer common carotid arteries (ie, lower arterial distension for a given systolic pressure) than their white counterparts.
The study population included 268 African Americans and 2459 whites, who were aged 45 to 64 years at baseline examination in 1986 to 1989, free of coronary heart disease and stroke/transient ischemic attack, from Forsyth County, North Carolina. The beta stiffness index and pulsatile arterial diameter change were derived from brachial blood pressure and from echo-tracked systolic and diastolic carotid arterial diameters.
African Americans had stiffer carotid arteries than their white counterparts, with a right shift of the beta stiffness index distribution. After adjustment for selected cardiovascular risk factors, the mean beta stiffness index was 9% higher for African Americans (mean +/- SEM: 11.3 +/- 0.3) than for whites (mean +/- SEM: 10.3 +/- 0.1) among participants not taking antihypertensive medication. Socioeconomic status and comorbidities were differentially associated with arterial stiffness by ethnicity. Specifically, the association between these correlates and beta stiffness index was stronger in African Americans than in whites.
This report on arterial mechanics in African Americans suggests that large artery stiffening either occurs earlier, or is more accelerated in African Americans than in whites in our sample, perhaps as a result of earlier exposure to multiple risk factors. This finding may have implications for hypertension prevention, as arterial stiffness is associated with the development of hypertension.