Abuse Increases Heart Disease Risk in Women

Heart attacks and strokes more prevalent in abuse victims

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Physical or sexual abuse can leave lingering emotional scars on young girls. Such abuse also may affect them physically -- increasing their risk for heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, once they become adults.

The increased cardiovascular risks were found only among girls who suffered severe or repeated sexual or physical abuse. Mild to moderate abuse was not linked to an increased risk.

"Monitor your health closely if you were abused as an adolescent."

Janet Rich-Edwards, Sc.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and associate professor in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, noted that the biggest risk factor in increased heart risk among women who were abused as children was their tendency to have gained more weight through their teen years and in adulthood.

Researchers reviewed the link between child abuse and cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, from 1989 to 2007 among 67,102 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Of those women, most of whom were nurses, 11 percent reported forced sexual activity as a child or teen, while 9 percent reported severe physical abuse.

As compared to women who were not abused, investigators found that women who endured repeated episodes of forced intercourse as a child had a 62 percent greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease as adults. Severe physical abuse was linked to a 45 percent increased risk of developing heart disease.

The association between severe abuse and stroke was stronger than for heart attack.

Researchers indicated that risk factors such as adult body mass index, smoking, alcohol use, hypertension and diabetes accounted for 41 percent of the association of severe physical abuse, and 37 percent of the association of forced sex. Increased stress and other factors may also play a role.

Rich-Edwards encouraged women who have been abused to take special care of their physical and emotional health to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

The research, which was recently presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2011, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Review Date: 
November 28, 2011
Last Updated:
November 30, 2011