A new study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, found young males who were sexually abused are three times more likely to experience a heart attack in adulthood when compared to males that were never sexually abused.
Researchers said one of the study’s most revealing findings was that higher heart attack risks were only found in men, while females that experienced childhood sexual abuse remained relatively stable with their coronary health, a surprise to heart surgeons in Detroit.
Experts said that female abuse victims may be less susceptible to heart attacks because they adopt different coping strategies than males and are more likely to get the support and counseling needed to deal with their sexual abuse. Medical field professionals also noted that the findings needed to be confirmed in larger scientific studies before making a strong case for the link between heart attacks and sexual abuse.
In the study, University of Toronto researchers examined gender-specific differences in 5,095 men and 7,768 women who were 18 years old or older. Results showed that a total of 57 men and 154 women reported being sexually abused by someone close to them before they turned 18 and 377 men and 285 women said a healthcare professional had diagnosed them with a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
Researchers found men who reported being sexually abused as children were particularly vulnerable to having a heart attack later in life. They assumed the higher risk was a result of unhealthy behaviors in sexual abuse survivors such as higher rates of alcohol or tobacco consumption and increased levels of general stress or poverty in adulthood, but the group remained uncertain on why men suffer differently than female counterparts.
It may take the best cardiologist Detroit to solve the puzzle, but in the meantime, medical experts have suggested the pathways linking childhood sexual abuse to physical health outcomes in later life may be gender-specific.
One researcher said a possible explanation is that adverse child experiences become biologically embedded in the way individuals react to stress throughout their life, particularly with respect to the production of cortisol, the hormone associated with the “fight-or-flight” response.