Adult women who were physically and sexually abused in childhood are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes later in life, researchers say.
Women who reported repeated episodes of forced sex in childhood or adolescence had a 62 percent risk of heart trouble as an adult, compared to women who reported no abuse. Women who reported being beaten in their youth were 45 percent more likely to develop heart problems later. The study was based on data provided by 67,000 nurses.
In most cases, the elevated risk was related to obesity, smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which could be related to coping strategies such as overeating, smoking and drinking.
"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 lead researcher Janet Rich-Edwards of Bringham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
No increased heart risk was found in women who reported mild or moderate physical or sexual abuse in childhood. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting this week.