Study on cardiovascular disease links limited English proficiency with health disparity in US

A new study recently published in JAMA Network Open suggests that limited English proficiency (LEP) could make individuals less likely to report their own cardiovascular diseases, likely due to the fact that these individuals are either undiagnosed or not well-educated about their disease and its symptoms. The study is part of a growing body of research that highlights the importance of improved language access services in the medical field, where language barriers can — and often do — have life or death consequences.

“Importantly, LEP and other language barriers are fundamentally detrimental to health literacy, further associated with poor health, adverse outcomes, and limited communication between the patient and health care practitioner,” the researchers write.

The study includes data from 583 participants who were US residents and had previously reported symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, specifically angina (i.e., chest pain). These individuals were sorted out according to whether or not they were native English speakers or had LEP — English speakers who reported having angina were far more likely than individuals with LEP to also report that they had some form of cardiovascular disease. 

Specifically, 43% of native English speakers included in the study self-reported as having cardiovascular disease, while only 26% of individuals with LEP did. Given the fact that it’s highly implausible that being a native English speaker would give somebody an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the researchers come to two different conclusions. Either individuals with LEP are simply not being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (or are not aware of their diagnosis due to language barriers) or they are not being adequately educated about their condition in their native language. 

“Our findings suggest that disparities in cardiovascular health are associated with language barriers. We found that in a nationally representative cohort, LEP was associated with greater odds of not reporting a history of CVD among individuals with anginal symptoms,” the researchers concluded. “These findings highlight the importance of effective communication, screening, and diagnostic evaluations about heart disease in individuals with and without LEP.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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