Women's heart disease tied to early abuse

Nov. 13, 2011 at 8:39 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Girls repeatedly sexually or physically abused might have a much higher risk for heart disease and stroke in adulthood, U.S. researchers found.

Lead author Janet Rich-Edwards, an associate professor at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and colleagues studied the associations of child and adolescent abuse with confirmed cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes from 1989 to 2007 among 67,102 women -- primarily white -- in the Nurses' Health Study II.

Eleven percent of the study participants reported forced sexual activity during childhood and adolescence, and 9 percent reported severe physical abuse, the study said.

Compared to women who weren't molested or raped as children or teens, women who reported:

-- Repeated episodes of forced sex in childhood or adolescence had a 62 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease as adults.

-- Severe physical abuse in childhood or adolescence was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events.

-- Mild to moderate physical or sexual abuse was not associated with increased risk.

"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," Rich-Edwards said in a statement.

The finding were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla.

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