Research links sexual assault to later brain damage in women

Research links sexual assault to later brain damage in women
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New research set to be published soon by a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health found that women who have been sexually assaulted may be at higher risk of developing brain damage connected to dementia and stroke. 

Rebecca Thurston, director of the school’s Women's Biobehavioral Health Laboratory, said in press release shared with The Hill that based on analysis of brain scans on 145 middle-aged women, those who have experienced sexual trauma  have greater white matter hyperintensities in their brain, a sign of a small vessel disease with links to stroke, dementia, overall cognitive decline and mortality.

Out of the study’s participants, 68 percent said they had experienced some form of trauma, while 23 percent noted that the trauma was tied to sexual assault. 


The study was presented last week at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society, and is expected to be published soon by the Brain Imaging and Behavior scientific journal. 

CNN firs reported the study. 

Thurston told CNN, "We need to keep our attention on this issue of sexual violence against women and not let it fall off the radar screen of society, because it continues to be a major women's health issue.” 

The report adds to previous research Thurston conducted on the topic, including a 2018 study in which she found that women who reported previously being sexually assaulted were three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression, and twice as likely to have higher levels of anxiety and insomnia. 

Thurston told CNN that given the long-term health impacts of sexual assault, patients who have experienced sexual trauma should share any concerns they have with their doctors. 

"Absolutely share this information with your health care providers," she said. 


"This is not your fault, so please share what you are comfortable with disclosing,” Thurston added. “It's important information that has implications for your physical health and your emotional well-being."

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of sexual violence during their life, with 1 in 3 female victims reporting a first instance of sexual violence between the ages of 11 and 17. 

Survivors of rape spend on average more than $122,000 each on various expenses, including medical costs and legal actions, according to the CDC.

Updated 2:38 p.m.