Sexual assault, natural disasters and other trauma linked to increased CVD risk in menopausal women

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Traumatic experiences like sexual assault, car accidents and living through a natural disaster could increase risk of heart disease for menopausal women, according to research presented at this week’s North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Risk of cardiovascular disease and adverse heart events has been proven to increase in women post-menopause, but little research has been done on how trauma can affect a woman’s heart health, NAMS wrote in a release. Rebecca Thurston, MD, led a study of 272 peri- and postmenopausal women and explored how lifetime experiences seemed to independently affect cardiovascular risk factors in the population.

All women studied were nonsmokers, according to NAMS, and trauma was evaluated as a risk factor independent of other existing cardiovascular risk factors, demographics and family history. Thurston and colleagues found women who reported three or more traumatic events in their lifetime had poorer overall endothelial function, making them more susceptible to cardiac problems in the future.

JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director, said in the release this indicates a need for clinicians to complete more exhaustive reviews of a woman’s history beyond her physical health and medical history.

In the study, Thurston and her team defined traumatic events as abuse, death of a child, being beaten or mugged, getting in a car accident and similar stressful situations. Natural disasters were included on the list, nodding to the slew of recent tragedies in the U.S. that include Northern California wildfires and hurricanes that have devastated Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas.

“These findings underscore the importance of psychosocial factors, such as trauma exposure, in the development of heart disease risk in midlife women,” Thurston said in the release.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in American women, attributable to one death per second in the U.S., the American Heart Association states. Thurston’s research will be presented at this week’s NAMS conference.