Chrome 2001
Aetna Intelihealth InteliHealth Aetna Intelihealth Aetna Intelihealth
. .
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001
Health News Health News
Childhood Sex Abuse May Be Linked to Heart Disease Risk in Women
July 17, 2014


THURSDAY, July 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged women who were sexually abused as children may be more likely to develop early signs of heart disease, a new study suggests.

"Early life adversities may have implications for the development of risk factors for heart disease during midlife," said lead researcher Rebecca Thurston, director of the Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Thurston's team collected data on 1,400 white, black, Hispanic and Chinese women, aged 42 to 52. They were part of a national study that included women from Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; Pittsburgh; Newark, N.J.; and Oakland, Calif.

The investigators found that women who were sexually abused in childhood showed signs of hardening of the arteries in their neck, an early marker of heart disease. This wasn't seen in women who weren't sexually abused, Thurston said. This finding was not connected to traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, smoking and cholesterol, she added.

Thurston noted that the study doesn't prove that child sexual abuse causes heart disease, only that there is an association between the two.

"To prove cause-and-effect, you would have to have a randomized trial assigning some girls to abuse and others not, which obviously one would not do," she explained. "All research around child abuse and health outcomes are purely associational."

Although it isn't clear what factors create the association, there may be changes in the nervous system or an excess of stress hormones, Thurston said. In addition, some of these women may engage in riskier health behaviors.

Whether or not a woman should tell her doctor that she was sexually abused as a child is her choice, Thurston added.

"It's a question of how safe a woman feels with her doctors," she said. "This is a very sensitive area, and there has to be trust when a woman discusses these issues with her doctor. But if she has that kind of trust, it would be worth mentioning," she suggested.

"Doctors should be aware of the importance of psychosocial risk factors when understanding women's heart disease risk," Thurston added.

The report was published online July 17 in the journal Stroke.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the new study and other research "suggests that exposure to substantial psychosocial stress in childhood can impact the subsequent risk of developing cardiovascular disease."

Another expert, Dr. Tara Narula, associate director of the cardiac care unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed.

"An individual's current psychological state is increasingly recognized as an important contributor to heart disease risk, and now we may be seeing that early life stress may be just as critical to identify," she said.

It's not surprising, Narula said, that women suffering a childhood trauma as serious and life-altering as sexual abuse might sustain long-term damage to the health of their heart.

"This first-of-its-kind study definitely merits further investigation and research. Overall, it raises awareness for both doctors and patients that, while difficult to disclose, there may be benefit in terms of heart health in discussing any history of sexual abuse," Narula said.

For the study, the women were asked about whether they had suffered any physical or sexual abuse. In addition, they were tested annually for a number of risk factors for heart disease.

About 16 percent of all the women said they had been sexually abused. Among black women, up to 20 percent reported being sexually abused, the researchers said.

After 12 years, as the women began to enter menopause, they were given an ultrasound test during their last annual visit, to see if any plaque had accumulated in their carotid arteries. Those arteries carry blood from the heart to the brain and face.

The researchers found that women who had been sexually abused had more plaque build-up in those arteries than those who had not been sexually abused. Whether they had been physically abused was not related to thicker carotid arteries, the researchers noted.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine for more on heart disease.
Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., associate professor, psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology and clinical and translational science, director, Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh; Tara Narula, M.D., associate director, cardiac...

More News
InteliHealth .
General Health News
Today's News
Today In Health History
This Week In Health
Addiction News
Allergy News
Alzheimer's News
Arthritis News
Asthma News
Babies News
Breast Cancer News
Bronchitis News
Cancer News
Cervical Cancer News
Children's Health News
Cholesterol News
Dental/Oral Health News
Depression News
Diabetes News
Ear, Nose And Throat News
Environmental Health News
Eye News
Fitness News
Genetics News
Headache News
Health Policy News
Heart Attack News
Heart Failure News
Heart Health News
Infectious Diseases News
Influenza News
Lung Cancer News
Medication News
Men's Health News
Mental Health News
Multiple Sclerosis News
Nutrition News
Parkinson's News
Pregnancy News
Prostate Cancer News
Senior Health News
Sexual/Reproductive Health News
Sexual dysfunction
Sleep News
STDs News
Stroke News
Tobacco Cessation News
Weight Management News
Women's Health News
    Print Printer-friendly format    
This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.