Girls beaten or sexually abused are twice as likely to develop heart or other cardiovascular diseases in adulthood, according to research presented Sunday.
Two thirds of women who reported repeated episodes of forced unwanted sexual activities in their youth developed cardiovascular disease as adults, according to researchers, and about half of the women who were physically abused as kids or teens developed cardiovascular disease.
Janet Rich-Edwards, a public health researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, presented the research, yet to be peer reviewed, at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla.
Rich-Edwards and colleagues based their research on the Nurses Health Study II, a study started in 1989 that followed diet and lifestyle risks in 67,102 women over several years.
In 2001, study coordinators sent participating women a supplemental questionnaire that asked about violence. For the cardiovascular study, Rich-Edward's group examined data the study collected between 1989 and 2007.
Continue Reading Below
We had a much better picture than we usually get of their early home life, Rich-Edwards said. This is a very well characterized population.
Childhood abuse likely led to weight gain and higher smoking rates, Rich-Edwards said. The American Heart Association says those are risk factors for heart disease. Pediatricians who find ways to keep their patients from smoking and gaining weight may help them avoid early onset heart diseases, Rich-Edwards said.
Rather than simply ask Were you abused as a child? the study questions asked about specifics, Rich-Edwards said. One question asked if a participant was repeatedly hit, choked or shoved. Another question asked if an adult ever tried to make the participant engage in a sexual act, threatening physical punishment if she didn't.
Rich-Edwards said additional data would have helped. I think it would have been good to measure other psychological trauma in the household -- divorce and mental illness, she said.
We're beginning to connect the dots from childhood abuse, she said. We still have a lot more to do to understand the whole pathway.