Sexual Violence Can Lead to Poor Mental, Cardiovascular Health in Women

Study indicates that women with trauma had greater white matter hyperintensities (WMH) than women without trauma, and the most common trauma associated with WMH was sexual violence.

Sexual violence and other traumatic experiences have been linked to poor mental and cardiovascular health in women as they age, the results of a new study indicate.

“The results of this study are noteworthy in that sexual assault is an unfortunate, yet all-too-common, experience for women; national data indicate that, on average, up to a third of women have had this experience. This distressing experience is not only important for women’s mental health, but also their brain health. This work is a major step toward identifying a novel risk factor for stroke and dementia among women,” Rebecca Thurston, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh, said in a press release.

“Not only do these results underscore the need for greater prevention of sexual assault, but also provide healthcare professionals with another indicator of who may be at most risk for stroke and dementia later in life.”

The study included nearly 150 middle-aged women, of whom, 68% reported at least 1 trauma, with 23% being sexual assault.

Investigators concluded that women with trauma had greater white matter hyperintensities (WMH)—a marker of brain small vessel disease—than did women without trauma.

The study found that WMH volume was more associated with sexual assault than any other trauma. The indication was still prevalent even after investigators adjusted for depressive or post-traumatic stress symptoms.

WMHs can be detected before the onset of dementia, stroke, and other disorders.

“Identifying early warning signs of stroke and dementia are critical to providing effective intervention,” Stephanie Faubion, MD, MBA, medical director of The North American Menopause Society, said in the release. “Studies like this one provide important information about the long-term effects of traumatic experiences on a woman’s overall well-being and mental health.”

The study was presented during the NAMS Annual Meeting.


Can a sexual assault jeopardize a women’s brain health? EurekAlert. News release. September 22, 2021. Accessed on October 8, 2021.

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