What does the research say?
The results of a study published by the American Heart Association have found a disturbing link between mental or physical abuse in a romantic relationship in young adulthood and the occurrence of sexual abuse. cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke, in middle age.
Even if you try to ignore them, violent or hurtful events can continue to harm you, affecting your health for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), intimate partner violence is a broad term that includes physical, sexual, or psychological aggression perpetrated by a current or former partner. . Direct and electronic stalking are included in that definition.
According to research, intimate partner violence can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, even after you get out of the situation. Regardless of your gender, violence, intimidation, and manipulative sarcasm can all affect your physical health and can adversely affect your heart over time.
These findings came from participants in the Young Coronary Heart Disease Development (CARDIA) study, which began in 1983. The goal of the CARDIA study was to identify risk factors for typical heart disease. present in young adulthood.
For the intimate partner violence substudy, the researchers analyzed cardiovascular events in CARDIA study participants who experienced multiple episodes of violence during or after a relationship. intimacy system. Childhood experiences of domestic violence or abuse were not included in the data.
No violence is okay. However, research shows that long-term or ongoing abuse is more harmful to heart health than a single or short-term encounter. “A dose-response relationship was found between intimate partner violence and poor cardiovascular health. More violence means worse outcomes, says Randi Foraker, PhD, MA, FAHA, spokesperson for the AHA substudy on intimate violence.
How intimate partner violence can affect your heart
It is understandable that dealing with violence from a loved one can lead to lifestyle choices that adversely affect heart health. Study participants self-reported higher-than-average alcohol and tobacco use, as well as high rates of depression.
Drinking and smoking are mostly bad for the heart but don’t tell the whole story. According to Dr. Foraker, research has established a cause-and-effect relationship between intimate partner violence and poor heart health. “Lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and smoking were taken into account in the study analysis. These self-reported measures are often underreported, so it is difficult to know what contributions such behaviors contribute to the causal pathway. However, as a potential risk factor, intimate partner violence may provide a biological basis for increased inflammation through the body’s stress pathways,” said Dr. Foraker.
Ah yes, inflammation and stress. This pesky duo can contribute to everything from acne to chronic diseases.
There is no question that dealing with violence can be stressful. Prolonged, constant stress increases production of cortisol, the fight-or-flight stress hormone. When cortisol levels are high, inflammation increases, the heart beats faster, and blood pressure rises. Over time, cortisol secretion and inflammation become the body’s standard response to chronic stress. Heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes can all follow.
How to reduce the risk of being abused by an intimate partner
First thing first. If you’re in an abusive, violent, or hurtful relationship, think about making a plan to free yourself, even if you love the person. Experts say episodes of violence rarely happen once in a while unless there is intervention. Violence can also escalate in scale over time.
“There may be a grooming aspect to the violence that is coming. This may include isolating you from others or controlling what you can and cannot do. Emily Eckstein, PsyD, LMFT, regional executive vice president of Lightfully Behavioral Health in Beverly Hills, said:
Dr. Eckstein often works with people in abusive relationships who are not ready to leave. Children, finances, and psychological readiness can all play a role. So is the fear of not being trusted. “If something goes wrong, identify people you trust who will cover you or help you leave when you are ready. This can be part of your safety plan,” she says.
Creating a safety plan to use if you need it can be very important. Your plan may include medical providers or spiritual leaders in your faith community. “Identifying reliable, safe people who will trust and take care of you, as well as safe places you can go, is very important. Your safety plan may include calling an abuse hotline or dialing 911. Not necessarily friends or family members. It’s just someone you can trust,” Dr. Eckstein added.
Dr. Eckstein notes that an individual’s level of resilience can play a role in a person’s ability to get out of a difficult situation and deal with it afterward. Resilience can be largely shaped by your environment and chance.
It can be difficult to leave an abusive relationship if you are living in difficult circumstances or poverty. For that reason, Elizabeth A. Jackson, MD, MPH, FAHA, director of the Cardiovascular Outcomes and Efficacy Research Program at UAB Medicine in Birmingham, AL believes that prevention can be part of the cure. “If we don’t treat people and communities holistically, we will miss risk factors that can harm heart health. We can’t just treat blood pressure and lipid levels. We also have to think about helping people reduce stressors, like intimate partner violence.”
How to reduce cardiovascular risk caused by intimate partner violence
Whether your relationship happened two months ago or twenty years ago, you can minimize its impact on your life and health.
“There is ample evidence from hundreds of thousands of people who have participated in pilot studies that clearly show that healthy blood pressure is essential to preventing heart disease. It is important for everyone to have good blood pressure and if it is not, we must treat it. Whether or not you’ve experienced violence in the past, it’s imperative for heart health, says Dr. Jackson.
For some people, working with a therapist will be essential. “The role of therapy was not addressed in the substudy of intimate partner violence. However, it is my opinion that therapy can be very beneficial in reducing intermediate risk factors, such as reducing alcohol dependence. It can also help people gain tools to better manage stress, which can have a significant impact,” said Dr. Foraker.
No matter how you choose to deal with your past, remember that risk factors are not fate. You cannot change what happened or want it to go away. However, you can control your current selections. Of course, eating heart-healthy foods and being physically active are very beneficial. Stress-relieving exercises like meditation and yoga can also lower your blood pressure and improve your mood on a daily basis.
It’s equally important to keep people close to you – and to be willing to listen if they notice something is wrong. “Typically, parents will mention worries about their child that they don’t act on. They may notice that their teenage daughter stops doing the things she loves and begins to distance herself from old friends. Dr Eckstein said: “There are people in your life who will share their concerns if they think something is wrong could help stop intimate partner violence.
No matter how you feel, or where you are on this journey, the power to have a healthy heart—and to heal—is within your control.