Maltreatment in childhood increases the higher risk of a heart attack in women

The evidence of sex differences in the association of childhood abuse and CVH.


Despite evidence that childhood abuse may negatively affect cardiovascular health (CVH) in adulthood, few studies have examined this association. Also, it appears that the cardiovascular effects of childhood abuse differ by sex, but existing findings are conflicting.

A study by the University of Bristol assessed whether the severity of childhood abuse impacted CVH and if the direct and indirect effects (through psychological and behavioral responses) of childhood abuse on CVH differ by sex in midlife.

For the study, scientists analyzed the medical records of 89,071 women and 68,240 men aged 40-69 years and different types of CVD, such as heart attack and stroke. They found that women who had experienced physical abuse in childhood tend to have a 50% higher risk of a heart attack. In the case of men, they tend to have a 20% higher risk.

The data was gathered from the UK Biobank. Scientists found that associations of maltreatment with the different types of CVD (any CVD, hypertensive disease, ischemic heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease) were similar across all the types of childhood maltreatment, however stronger associations were observed for ischemic heart disease (heart attack) and cerebrovascular disease (stroke).

Dr. Ana Gonçalves Soares, Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit and Population Health Sciences at Bristol Medical School, explains: “Even though the risks of childhood maltreatment and CVD are different for men and women, sex differences in their association have been underexplored.”

“This study is particularly important as it will help clinicians identify individuals who might benefit from early screening and interventions to prevent cardiovascular consequences.”

“However, more understanding is needed on how childhood maltreatment links to CVD and whether the pathways from maltreatment to CVD differ for men and women and by type of maltreatment. We have ongoing work trying to understand some of these pathways to improve the diagnosis and treatment of these life-threatening illnesses.”

Journal Reference:
  1. A Luiza Gonçalves Soares et al. Sex differences in the association between childhood maltreatment and cardiovascular disease. Heart. DOI: 10.1136/heartjnl-2019-316320