Black and Hispanic women may be more likely than white women to have a brain pressure disorder called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, according to a study published in the May 12, 2021, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The disorder may also be more common in women who live in low-income areas or in areas with more fast-food restaurants and convenience stores than grocery stores, also known as “food swamps.”
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension occurs when there is increased pressure in the fluid surrounding the brain with no other apparent cause. It causes chronic, disabling headaches, vision problems and in rare cases, permanent vision loss. It is most often diagnosed in women of childbearing age. Obesity is the primary risk factor for the condition.
“We found that women with idiopathic intracranial hypertension were more than twice as likely to be Black than people who did not have the condition, even after we adjusted for their body mass index, so we believe that racial differences are not explained solely by obesity,” said study author Venkatesh Brahma, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Our results provide some support for racial disparities that can be seen in this condition. Though at least some of this relationship is driven by the link between obesity and idiopathic intracranial hypertension with low-income neighborhoods and food swamps, it does not fully explain the differences, and other systemic health disparities are likely involved.”
The study involved women who were seen by a neuro-ophthalmologist at the university over eight years—223 women who had intracranial hypertension and 4,783 who did not. Researchers looked at participants’ health records and then used their addresses to determine information about the neighborhoods in which they live.
Among the women with the condition, 48% were white, 47% were Black and 5% were Hispanic, while among the women without the condition, 77% were white, 20% were Black and 3% were Hispanic. After adjusting for other factors, such as age and low-income neighborhood, women with the condition were more than three times as likely to be Black and twice as likely to be Hispanic. However, after researchers adjusted for body mass index, women with the condition were no longer more likely to be Hispanic than white, while they were more than twice as likely to be Black.
“Additional studies are needed to help us understand the link between race, ethnicity, access to healthy foods, exposure to unhealthy foods, other social determinants of health, and idiopathic intracranial hypertension,” Brahma said. “Our findings suggest that multiple factors are likely involved.”
A limitation of the study was the participants may not be representative of all people with idiopathic intracranial hypertension due to the university’s proximity to low-income neighborhoods.
American Academy of Neurology