A new study shows that young adults who have served time in prison have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and an enlarged heart than those who have never been incarcerated.
Ex-inmates are also less likely to have access to regular health care, according to a report of the study appearing today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Between 1987 and 2007, the U.S. prison population tripled, making it "especially important to understand the implications of incarceration on future health status," Dr. Emily A. Wang of San Francisco General Hospital and colleagues note.
Among 4,350 individuals participating in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, or CARDIA, study, 288 had been incarcerated one year before or two years after they joined the study.
According to Wang and colleagues, in the three to five years since release from prison, high blood pressure occurred much more often in former inmates aged 23 to 35 years old than in young adults of the same age who did not spend time in jail (12 percent versus 7 percent).
In addition, enlargement of the heart muscle that is a common consequence of high blood pressure — was more common among ex-inmates (2 percent vs. 0.6 percent).
Former inmates were also more likely to lack treatment for their high blood pressure, as mentioned.
"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 high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, both of which put such persons at higher risk for developing symptoms of cardiovascular disease, Wang and colleagues conclude.