Sexual assault, harassment, may raise women’s risk of high blood pressure

Experiencing sexual violence or workplace sexual harassment may raise a woman’s long-term risk of developing high blood pressure compared to women who have not experienced these traumatic events, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Utilizing data from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II, they found that women who reported experiencing sexual assault had an 11% higher risk of high blood pressure, and those who experienced workplace sexual harassment had a 15% higher risk. Women who experienced both sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment had a 21% increased risk of hypertension.

The study was published online February 22, 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

First author Rebecca Lawn, postdoctoral research fellow in epidemiology, said in a press release that “exposure to sexual violence is not widely recognized as a contributor to women’s cardiovascular health. We felt it was important to investigate the relationship among common forms of sexual violence with the risk of developing hypertension. These links could help in the early identification of factors that influence women’s long-term cardiovascular health.”

A February 22 CNN article on the study also cited a 2008 study by Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, that linked sexual harassment and increased risk of hypertension.

“In a sense, the body is telling the story,” Krieger told CNN in a previous interview. “Not everyone is able and willing to identify what happened to them, but that doesn’t prevent the body from having opinions about it and expressing them.”

Read CNN article: Sexual harassment and assault linked to high blood pressure in women, study says