Abused Girls at Greater Risk for Heart Disease as Adults: Study

Doctors should look for history of sexual, physical abuse, researchers say

SUNDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Girls who are severely physically and sexually abused may be at greater risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke as adults, according to a new study.

Researchers examined the link between abuse and heart disease and strokes among 67,100 women. Forced sexual activity during their childhood or teenage years was reported by 11 percent of the women, and 9 percent reported severe physical abuse.

Women who were repeatedly raped as children or teenagers were at 62 percent higher risk for heart disease. Meanwhile, women who suffered severe physical abuse as children or teens had a 45 percent increased risk for heart disease.

"The single biggest factor explaining the link between severe child abuse and adult cardiovascular disease was the tendency of abused girls to have gained more weight throughout adolescence and into adulthood," said the study's lead author, Janet Rich-Edwards, associate professor in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, in a news release from the American Heart Association.

The research was to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando.

Known risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes and hypertension, however, accounted for just 40 percent of the association between the abuse the women suffered and heart disease. As a result, the researchers argued other factors, such as heightened stress among people with a history of abuse, could play an important role.

"Women who experience abuse need to take special care of their physical and emotional well-being to reduce their risk of chronic disease," noted Rich-Edwards. "Primary care health professionals need to consider childhood abuse histories of women as they transition into adulthood," she added.

To help prevent cardiovascular disease among women with a history of abuse, "we need to learn more about specific psychological, lifestyle and medical interventions to improve the health of abuse survivors," she said.

Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on women's risk factors for heart disease.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 13, 2011

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