Heart disease more common in women who have suffered domestic abuse

Women who have suffered domestic abuse are 31% more likely to develop heart disease and 51% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who haven’t been abused, a study out of the U.K. has found.

Joht Singh Chandan, MFPH, MBBS, BSc, and colleagues’ study, published Feb. 17 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at the health outcomes of thousands of women who’d been exposed to domestic abuse, defined as physical, psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse. Domestic abuse is common across the world, the authors said, affecting an estimated 1 in 3 women globally and 1 in 4 women in the U.K.

The research team, comprised of scientists from the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham, used medical records from U.K. GP surgeries between 1995 and 2017 to identify 18,547 women marked with a code that signified domestic abuse. That cohort was matched with 72,231 non-abused women for age, BMI, socioeconomics and smoking status.

Chandan et al. reported that women who were domestically abused were 31% more likely to develop heart disease and 51% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts, though they didn’t establish any connection with hypertension. The team said all-cause mortality was also 44% higher among women who’d been abused, though they weren’t able to pinpoint the reason for that hike.

“Considering the prevalence of domestic abuse, there is a public health burden of cardiometabolic disease likely due to domestic abuse,” Chandan said in a release. “Although our study was not able to answer exactly why this relationship exists, we believe that it is likely due to the effects of acute and chronic stress. Additionally, we know that exposure to domestic abuse may be associated with other lifestyle factors.”

Chandan said improved data sharing between public services like the NHS and police could support better mental and physical healthcare services for women who have suffered abuse.

“Not every woman experiencing domestic abuse will go on to develop a long-term illness,” he said. “Our understanding of the physical and mental health effects of domestic abuse is arguably still in its infancy ... But from this study we can see that within this dataset, the cohort of women recorded to have experienced domestic abuse are at a greater risk than those without such records present.”