Background – Sexual assault is a risk factor for poor mental health, yet its relationship to cardiovascular disease risk is not understood. We tested whether women with a sexual assault history had greater carotid atherosclerosis levels and progression over midlife.
Methods and Results – A total of 169 non‐smoking, cardiovascular disease‐free women aged 40 to 60 years were assessed twice over 5 years. At each point, women completed questionnaires, physical measures, phlebotomy, and carotid ultrasounds. Associations between sexual assault and carotid plaque level (score 0, 1, ≥2) and progression (score change) were assessed in multinomial logistic and linear regression models, adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, education, body mass index, blood pressure, lipids, insulin resistance, and additionally depression/post‐traumatic stress symptoms; 28% of the women reported a sexual assault history. Relative to non‐exposed women, women with a sexual assault history had an over 4‐fold odds of a plaque score of ≥2 at baseline (≥2, odds ratio [OR] [95% CI]=4.35 [1.48–12.79], P=0.008; 1, OR [95% CI]=0.49 [0.12–1.97], P=0.32, versus no plaque; multivariable); and an over 3‐fold odds of plaque ≥2 at follow‐up (≥2, OR [95% CI]=3.65 [1.40–9.51], P=0.008; 1, OR [95% CI]=1.52 [0.46–4.99], P=0.49, versus no plaque; multivariable). Women with a sexual assault history also had an over 3‐folds greater odds of a plaque score progression of ≥2 (OR [95% CI]=3.48[1.11–10.93], P=0.033, multivariable). Neither depression nor post‐traumatic symptoms were related to plaque.