Women who were sexually abused as children may be at greater risk for developing atherosclerosis in adulthood, according to research published in Stroke.
The first study of its kind found that some women who suffer sexual abuse in their youth had higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), which impacts the arteries and may indicate early-stage atherosclerosis. The condition can lead to cardiovascular disease.
The study included 1,400 women of various ethnicities aged 42 to 52 years with a history of childhood sexual abuse. The researchers found that 16% of the women reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, across all racial groups, with the abuse as high as 20% among African-Americans.
Those who were abused had a higher IMT compared with those who were not. The link between childhood abuse and IMT was not attributed to standard cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, fat in the blood or body mass index (β=0.022; SE=0.010; P<0.05; adjusted mean childhood sexual abuse: 0.800 mm vs. no childhood sexual abuse: 0.782 mm).
A history of childhood sexual abuse, but not childhood physical abuse, was related to higher IMT, the researchers found.
“These study findings indicate the importance of considering early life stressors on women’s later cardiovascular health,” said lead author Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology and clinical and translational science and director of the Women’s Behavioral and Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
“Awareness of the long-term mental and physical consequences of sexual abuse in childhood needs to be heightened nationally, particularly among women and health professionals,” she added.
Women who were sexually abused as children often show signs of atherosclerosis, an early indication of cardiovascular disease, according to new research.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this is the first study to suggest a link between sexual abuse and higher carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), a thickening of the inner lining of the arteries that may indicate early atherosclerosis.