Sexually Assaulted Women Have A Higher Risk Of Developing A Type Of Brain Damage, Says Study

Sexually Assaulted Women Have A Higher Risk Of Developing A Type Of Brain Damage, Says Study

The type of brain damage has been linked to cognitive decline, dementia and stroke, according to the findings.

Statistics show that at least one in three women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A study has now come out with alarming findings that state that women who have been sexually assaulted have a higher risk of developing a type of brain damage. This type of brain damage has been linked to cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke. "It could be either childhood sexual abuse or adult sexual assault. Based upon population data, most women have their sexual assaults when they are in early adolescence and early adulthood so these are likely early experiences that we're seeing the marks of later in life." said study author Rebecca Thurston, according to CNN.  Thurston is a professor and director of the Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.



A lot of research has taken place over the years to understand the long-term impact of sexual assault on the body and the mind. Previous studies have linked sexual trauma to higher levels of triglycerides and blood pressure in midlife, which are risk factors for heart attacks. Many experts believe there is a correlation between trauma and how it affects one's health. "We need to keep our attention on this issue of sexual violence against women and not let it fall off the radar screen of society, because it continues to be a major women's health issue," Thurston said. She believes that women who have been through sexual abuse should speak to their doctors. "Absolutely share this information with your health care providers," Thurston said. "This is not your fault, so please share what you are comfortable with disclosing. It's important information that has implications for your physical health and your emotional well-being."

The new study will be published in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior. The study looked at the brain scans of 145 midlife women with no previous history of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or dementia. 68 percent of those who participated in the study had experienced trauma. For 23 percent of the women that trauma was sexual assault. Researchers looked at white matter hyperintensities in the brain scans. These are seen as small spots of white on MRIs and indicate disruptions in blood flow that have left damage in the brain.

Representational Image Source: Getty Images/ Tinnakorn Jorruang



"Using brain imaging, we found that women with a history of sexual assault have greater white matter hyperintensities in the brain, which is an indicator of small vessel disease that has been linked to stroke, dementia, cognitive decline, and mortality," Thurston said. Not only did the study control other diseases and conditions that would affect the development of white matter hyperintensities like age, hypertension, smoking and diabetes but it also controlled for emotional disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The rise in white matter hyperintensities "wasn't explained by these subjective symptoms of distress," Thurston said. "It's almost like your body has a memory that may not be fully manifesting through psychological symptoms. The sexual assault also leaves footprints of the trauma in our brains and our bodies."

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk who has worked with people who had PTSD published his book The Body Keeps the Score in 2014. Since the rise of destigmatizing mental health issues, the book has been incredibly popular in the recent past for its account of the complex effects of trauma, reports The Guardian.