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Women Abused As Children Appear to Have Shorter Lifespans

Extreme stress in childhood may affect the response tendencies of immune cells

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Women who suffered physical or emotional abuse as children often die at a younger age than other women, according to research published online Aug. 17 in JAMA Psychiatry.

The findings are based on a study of 6,285 U.S. adults. The volunteers were 47 years old, on average, when the study began in the 1990s. Over the next 20 years, 1,091 study participants died.

The researchers found that among women, those who said they were “sometimes” or “often” emotionally abused as children were 22 percent more likely to die during the study period, versus women with no history of child abuse. Similarly, women who’d been physically abused as children were 30 to 58 percent more likely to die, depending on the severity of the abuse. Men who’d been abused as children did not have a higher mortality rate than other men.

Lead researcher, Edith Chen, Ph.D., of Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., and colleagues looked at several potential explanations — including study participants’ education levels and race, and whether they smoked, drank heavily, or had cardiovascular disease, cancer, or major depression. None of those factors completely explained the link between child abuse and women’s shorter life span. “Adverse childhood experiences may program the response tendencies of immune cells in ways that perpetuate chronic inflammatory states that in turn heighten risk for cardiovascular and other chronic diseases of aging,” the authors write.

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