Work Harassment, Sexual Assault Linked to High Blood Pressure in Women: Study


Feb 23, 2022


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Women who face workplace harassment or sexual violence have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, according to new research. The findings establish a link between women’s cardiovascular health and trauma from sexual violence.

The study, published in the Journal of American Heart Association on Tuesday, analyzed data from a 2008 report documenting information about more than 33,000 women. The women are currently participating in an ongoing clinical trial looking at the risk of chronic diseases in women. In 2008, the women — mostly white, middle-aged nurses — provided information about previous exposure to violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. They provided similar information again after a gap of seven years, in 2015, to record any changes in blood pressure.

The researchers found that about one in five women had developed high blood pressure. Moreover, the risk was higher by 21% for women who experienced sexual violence at the workplace and in their private lives. Since there was not a similar link between hypertension and all other kinds of trauma, the researchers concluded: “increased hypertension risk does not appear to be associated with all trauma exposure.”

“This study highlights why it’s important for health research to examine women’s experiences of sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment,” said Laura Rowland, a program chief in the Division of Translational Research at the National Institute of Mental Health, in a press release.

Turns out, the correlation between sexual assault and hypertension has been observed earlier too. In 2008, another study looking at more than 1,000 low-income, multi-racial women observed a rise in blood pressure in women who experienced sexual harassment. “In a sense, the body is telling the story,” said Nancy Krieger, a professor of social epidemiology and author of the 2008 study.

Related on The Swaddle:

Social Isolation Boosts Women’s Risk of Hypertension, Researchers Find

Again, in 2019, researchers at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine found higher blood pressure in women who reported workplace harassment, as compared to women who did not. “In fact, the blood pressure was high enough to put the women at risk for stroke, aneurysms, kidney disease, heart attacks, and other forms of heart disease,” the study found.

“Sexual harassment was also linked to higher levels of triglycerides [a type of cholesterol] and a key risk factor for heart disease,” CNN noted. Even in 2021, a research presented at the American Heart Association found that veterans who reported sexual assault during duty were also at higher risk for blood pressure.

Here are some numbers to put this research into perspective. For women, cardiovascular disease (of which hypertension is one cause) lead to one in three deaths in women each year, according to the American Heart Association. Interestingly, despite more women dying from heart disease, research around the female body remains grievously limited, a 2021 analysis observed.

Moreover, a 2018 survey found 81% of women interviewed had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lives. This number could be substantially higher.

That sexual trauma could intricately change the way female bodies function is a troubling prospect. But more studies can pave the way for early identification and treatment. As Rowland added: “Future research can build on these findings to determine whether sexual violence and high blood pressure are causally linked and identify possible underlying mechanisms.”


Written By Saumya Kalia

Saumya Kalia is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature, and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.


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