According to a new study in Stroke, women who were sexually abused during childhood may be more likely to have higher intima media thickness, suggesting that stressors in early life may have an impact on cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life.
The findings are based on data from 1402 participants in The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a longitudinal cohort study of women going through menopause led by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh. To assess the association between childhood sexual abuse and risk of adult CVD, the women—who were white, black, Hispanic, or Chinese—underwent measurements of childhood and adult physical and sexual abuse, blood draw, physical measures; and had a carotid artery ultrasound at SWAN visit 12.
Linear and multinomial logistic regression models were used to test the association between abuse and intima media thickness and plaque while controlling for age, site, race/ethnicity, financial strain, education, body mass index, lipids, blood pressure, measures of insulin resistance, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, and medication use.
When controlling for typical CVD risk factors and other confounders, a history of childhood sexual abuse was associated with higher intima media thickness (β=0.022; SE=0.010; P<0.05; adjusted mean childhood sexual abuse: 0.800 mm versus no childhood sexual abuse: 0.782 mm).
Investigators concluded that a history of childhood sexual abuse was positively associated with higher intima media thickness, even after controlling for typical CVD risk factors. They believe that their findings highlight the potential impact of early-life stressors on later cardiovascular health.
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