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Gaffey AE, Rosman L, Sico JJ, Haskell SG, Brandt CA, Bathulapalli H, Han L, Dziura J, Skanderson M, Burg MM. Military sexual trauma and incident hypertension: a 16-year cohort study of young and middle-aged men and women. Journal of Hypertension. 2022 Nov 1; 40(11):2307-2315.
OBJECTIVES: Veterans, especially women, are three times more to experience sexual harassment and assault [military sexual trauma (MST)] than civilians. As trauma is associated with elevated cardiovascular risk, we investigated whether MST independently contributes to risk for incident hypertension and whether the effects are distinct among women. METHODS: We assessed 788 161 post-9/11 Veterans ( Mage = 32.14 years, 13% women) who were free of hypertension at baseline, using nationwide Veterans Health Administration data collected 2001-2017. Time-varying, multivariate Cox proportional hazard models were used to examine the independent contribution of MST to new cases of hypertension while sequentially adjusting for demographics, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors, including baseline blood pressure, and psychiatric disorders including posttraumatic stress disorder. We then tested for effect modification by sex. RESULTS: Over 16 years [mean = 10.23 (SD: 3.69)], 35 284 Veterans screened positive for MST (67% were women). In the fully adjusted model, MST was associated with a 15% greater risk of hypertension [95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.11-1.19]. In sex-specific analyses, men and women with a history of MST showed a 6% (95% CI, 1.00-1.12, P = 0.042) and 20% greater risk of hypertension (95% CI, 1.15-1.26, P < 0.001), respectively. CONCLUSION: In this large prospective cohort of young and middle-aged Veterans, MST was associated with incident hypertension after controlling for established risk factors, including trauma-related psychiatric disorders. Although MST is disproportionately experienced by women, and the negative cardiovascular impact of MST is demonstrated for both sexes, the association with hypertension may be greater for women. Subsequent research should determine if early MST assessment and treatment attenuates this risk.