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Study links sexual assault to later brain damage in women

New research has revealed the cognitive risks among victims of sexual assault. 

Study links sexual assault to later brain damage in women

A study from the University of Pittsburgh’s Women’s Biobehavioral Health Laboratory has found that women who have experienced sexual assault have a higher risk of developing a type of brain damage linked to dementia and stroke.

The study, published in the Brain Imaging and Behaviour journal looked at the brain scans of 145 middle-aged women. 68 per cent of the women had experienced trauma, with 23 per cent of the participants experiencing trauma from sexual assault.

Controlling for other diseases and emotional disorders, such as diabetes, depression and PTSD, the researchers examined signs of white matter hyperintensities, which signify damage in the brain.

“Using brain imaging, we found that women with a history of sexual assault have greater white matter hyperintensities in the brain, which is an indicator of small vessel disease that has been linked to stroke, dementia, cognitive decline and mortality,” said lead author Rebecca Thurston.

“It’s almost like your body has a memory that may not be fully manifesting through psychological symptoms. The sexual assault also leaves footprints of the trauma in our brains and our bodies.”

The study adds to a growing body of research around sexual trauma and the physical and mental health risks surrounding it.

“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,” Thurston said.

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