Published:  2017-05

Child Abuse and Neglect and Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease among Midlife Women

Authors:  Rebecca C. Thurston, Yuefang Chang, Emma Barinas-Mitchell, Roland von Känel, J. Richard Jennings, Nanette Santoro, Doug P. Landsittel, Karen A. Matthews


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A childhood history of abuse or neglect may be associated with elevated adult cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. No studies have examined associations between child abuse/neglect and subclinical CVD using a validated measure of abuse and neglect. We hypothesized that midlife women with a childhood abuse or neglect history would have increased subclinical CVD beyond standard CVD risk factors. We tested moderation of associations by sleep, hot flashes, and race/ethnicity.

295 midlife women completed the Child Trauma Questionnaire, physiologic hot flash and actigraphic sleep monitoring, blood draw, and carotid ultrasound (intima media thickness, IMT; plaque). Relations between abuse/neglect and outcomes were tested in linear regression models adjusting for demographic, psychosocial, and CVD risk factors. Interactions with sleep, hot flashes, and race/ethnicity were tested.

45% of women reported a history of child abuse or neglect. Women with any child abuse or neglect had higher IMT [b(SE)=.039(.011), p<.01] and carotid plaque [OR(95%CI= 1.95 (1.15–3.33), p<.05] than non-abused/neglected women. Further, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or emotional neglect were associated with higher subclinical CVD. Sexual abuse was associated with higher IMT among nonwhite women. Interactions with sleep time and sleep hot flashes (p values <.05) indicated that higher subclinical CVD with an abuse/neglect history was observed primarily among women sleeping <6 hours/night or with sleep hot flashes.

A history of child abuse or neglect is associated with higher subclinical CVD in women, particularly when paired with short sleep or hot flashes. Findings underscore the importance of childhood adversity in midlife women’s CVD risk.