Childhood sexual abuse linked to early sign of atherosclerosis

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A new study published in Stroke – a journal of the American Heart Association – finds that women who were sexually abused in childhood may be more likely to have higher thickening of the inner lining of the arteries in middle age – an early indication of atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a condition whereby the arteries harden or thicken, causing an accumulation of plaque. The build-up of plaque can partially or completely block an artery, restricting blood flow. Atherosclerosis can lead to a number of complications, including heart attackheart disease and peripheral artery disease.

Women who reported a history of sexual abuse in childhood had higher thickening of the inner lining of the arteries in midlife – an early indication of atherosclerosis.

This latest study – led by Rebecca C. Thurston, 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, PA – is the first to link childhood sexual abuse to increased thickening of the arteries’ inner lining, known as carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), according to the team.

Thurston and colleagues began their study back in 1996, analyzing 1,400 Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and Chinese women ages 42-52 who were a part of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN).

At study baseline, all women were asked about any sexual or physical abuse they had experienced during childhood and adulthood, and were measured for a number of well-known risk factors for heart disease.

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