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Sexually Abused Males at Higher Risk of Heart Attack than Women

Update Date: Sep 06, 2012 01:42 PM EDT

One of the most controversial topics of discussion is whether or not men can be sexually abused. It is not a question of whether a man can be abused, as long as another man is the abuser, rather can women be abusers of men.

What is not debated is that childhood abuse, irrespective of the victims gender, can lead to debilitation psychological, emotional and behavioral consequences, as victims cope and reason with a traumatic childhood experience.

Scientists have now discover that victims of childhood sexual abuse are at high risk for cardiovascular illnesses based on emotional stress.

According to a study published online this week in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, men who experienced childhood sexual abuse are three times more likely to have a heart attack than men who were not sexually abused as children.

Investigators from the University of Toronto examined gender-specific differences in a representative sample of 5095 men and 7768 women aged 18 and over, drawn from the Center for Disease Control's 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.

Lead author Esme Fuller-Thompson and Professor Sandra Rotman Chair at University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, revealed that Men who were sexually abused as children reported were particularly vulnerable to having a heart attack later in life.

"We had expected that the abuse-heart attack link would be due to unhealthy behaviors in sexual abuse survivors, such as higher rates of alcohol use or smoking, or increased levels of general stress and poverty in adulthood when compared to non-abused males," said Fuller Thompson in her report.

" However," she continues, " we adjusted statistically for 15 potential risk factors for heart attack, including age, race, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes mellitus, education level and household income, and still found a three-fold risk of heart attack."

Though researchers are unclear as to why men are at higher risk for cardiac arrest than their female counterparts, "the results suggest that the pathways linking childhood sexual abuse to physical health outcomes in later life may be gender-specific."

Researchers suspect that females adopt different coping strategies than males, as women are more likely to get the support and counseling needed to deal with their sexual abuse. It is also possible that because females are more likely to express their emotions and are more open to giving details in therapy, this may have a cathartic or stress-releasing effect. Men however are more likely to shut-off and bottle the event, refusing to dwell on past pains.

"These findings need to be replicated in future scientific studies before we can say anything definitive about this link," cautions Fuller-Thomson in the report. "But if other researchers find a similar association, one 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. Cortisol is also implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases."

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