Women's experiences of sexual assault and harassment linked with high blood pressure
Women who had ever experienced sexual violence in their lifetime—including sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment—were more likely to develop high blood pressure over a seven-year follow-up period, according to findings from a large, longitudinal study of women in the United States. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, indicated that sexual violence was a common experience, affecting more than 20% of the women in the sample.
"Our results showed that women who reported experiencing both sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment had the highest risk of hypertension, suggesting potential compounding effects of multiple sexual violence exposures on women's cardiovascular health," said Rebecca B. Lawn, Ph.D., of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, lead author on the study.
Lawn and colleagues analyzed associations between lifetime exposure to sexual violence and blood pressure while accounting for the possible impacts of exposure to other types of trauma. For data, the researchers used the Nurses' Health Study II (NHS II), a longitudinal study of adult women in the U.S. that began in 1989 with 115,000 nurses enrolled.
Over time, the NHS II has collected data on a wide range of sociodemographic, medical, and behavioral variables. As part of a 2008 NHS II sub-study, a subgroup of participants reported whether they had ever experienced sexual harassment at work (either physical or verbal) and whether they had ever experienced unwanted sexual contact. They also reported exposure to other traumas, such as an accident, disaster, or unexpected death of a loved one.
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