Sexual Assault Linked to Brain Damage, Depression in Adult Women

In Summary

The effects of sexual assault go far beyond what women may experience early on, causing brain damage, severe anxiety and even heart disease for some.

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains details some may find distressing. 

A new study discovered that women who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to develop a type of brain damage linked to cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke, per CNN’s Sandee LaMotte

The study was led by Rebecca Thurston, professor and director of the Women’s Biobehavioral Health Laboratory, who says most women are sexually assaulted in early adolescence and early adulthood, and these long-term effects are likely based on early life events. 

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“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, as reported by LaMotte. 

Sexual trauma has previously been linked to higher midlife triglyceride and blood pressure levels, as well as a three-fold greater chance of carotid plaque accumulation, per LaMotte, both of which are key risk factors for heart disease. 

Thurston’s research also found that women who had been sexually assaulted in the past were three times more likely to be depressed and twice as likely to have severe anxiety and insomnia than women who had not been sexually assaulted. 

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“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,” she said, as reported by LaMotte. 

She went on to say that women who have been sexually abused should feel free to speak up and tell their doctors. 

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.

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