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Women who survive domestic abuse are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and die of any cause, a study has revealed.
Researchers found women in the U.K. who experienced domestic abuse were 31 percent more likely to develop heart disease, and had a 51 percent higher chance of having type 2 diabetes. The participants were also 44 percent higher risk of what is known as all-cause mortality.
Lead author of the study Dr. Joht Singh Chandan, public health doctor at the University of Warwick and University of Birmingham, told Newsweek “all-cause mortality” refers to death from any cause.
He explained: “So in these records we can’t discern the exact cause, we just know the patient had died.”
The authors of the paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at data from the medical records of tens of thousands of women in the U.K. who visited doctors between January 1, 1995 and December 1, 2017.
A total of 18,547 women had experienced domestic abuse, and their data was matched by age and lifestyle with four women (72,231 in total) who hadn’t experienced domestic violence, to compare their health. The participants were aged 37 on average.
Domestic abuse was defined as “any incident or patterns of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”
Some 27.1 percent of women in the U.K. on average suffer domestic abuse at some point in their lives. In the U.S., one in four women and one in nine men experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The participants were more likely to come from deprived areas compared with the national U.K. average, and 44.7 percent smoked. Women who experienced domestic abuse were more likely to drink than the other group, at 10.1 percent versus. 3.5 percent.
But domestic abuse survivors were still more likely to have conditions like heart disease and diabetes even when researchers accounted for these variables, suggesting their lifestyles were not the only explanation for higher risk, the team said. More research is needed to understand how to help these women and pinpoint what might explain the link, the authors said.
However, Chandan said the study was limited because cases might not be accurately recorded.
“It is clear that domestic abuse is heavily under-recorded in GP [family doctor] records and so there may be individuals in the control group who have experienced abuse but are miscoded as not experiencing abuse. However, in reality this may mean we are under-estimating the findings,” he explained.
Chandan said he wanted to conduct the study because he is both a medical doctor and a volunteer detective for West Midlands Police force in the U.K. “I see lots of survivors of abuse with poor health and wanted to understand why as well as how we can best support them,” he said.