Published:  2019-10

Childhood abuse and vasomotor symptoms among midlife women

Authors:  Mary Y. Carson, Rebecca C. Thurston


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Childhood maltreatment is related to adverse health outcomes. However, the relation of childhood maltreatment to the menopause transition, a universal transition for women often accompanied by troubling symptoms such as vasomotor symptoms, is relatively underexplored. This study tested whether childhood abuse and neglect are associated with menopausal vasomotor symptoms, utilizing both physiologic and prospective self-report measures of vasomotor symptoms.

295 nonsmoking perimenopausal and postmenopausal women aged 40 to 60 years with and without vasomotor symptoms completed psychosocial measures including the Child Trauma Questionnaire, ambulatory physiologic (sternal skin conductance) and self-report measurement of vasomotor symptoms during wake and sleep, and actigraphy measurement of sleep. Relationships between childhood abuse/neglect and vasomotor symptoms during wake and sleep were tested in linear regression models controlling for demographics, body mass index, and menopause stage.

44% of the sample reported abuse or neglect during childhood. Among women reporting vasomotor symptoms, childhood sexual or physical abuse was associated with more frequent physiologically-recorded vasomotor symptoms during sleep (sexual abuse: b(SE)=1.45(0.52), p=0.006; physical abuse: b(SE)=0.97(0.47), p=0.03) in multivariable models. Among these women, women with a physical or sexual abuse history had approximately 1.5-two fold the number of sleep vasomotor symptoms than women without this history.

Childhood abuse is associated with more frequent physiologically-detected vasomotor symptoms during sleep.