Harvard Heart Letter

Childhood abuse raises heart risk

Childhood abuse is bad enough on its own, and now it appears it may also increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease earlier than usual. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that women who were physically abused in childhood were more likely to develop high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels, carry extra weight around their waists, and have high blood pressure in middle age. Together, these risk factors constitute metabolic syndrome, which is known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study, published online September 7, 2012, in Health Psychology, enrolled 342 women between the ages of 42 and 52, 34% of whom reported having been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused as children. Sixty participants were diagnosed at enrollment with metabolic syndrome, and another 59 developed the constellation of risk factors over the study period. After adjusting for age, ethnicity, menopause status, smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity, socioeconomic status, and depression, the connection between early physical abuse and metabolic syndrome stood firm. The link did not exist with emotional or sexual abuse.

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