There is no disagreement that domestic violence is harmful, but not many people recognize the detrimental effects that it can have on heart health. Yes, domestic violence can damage someone psychologically and lead to a host of other problems, including the risk of death by homicide. However, research continues in linking domestic violence to heart health. While there isn't concrete evidence linking the two, there are some red flags that are indicative of a closely related relationship.
Abused Women May Not Get Regular Medical Care
An abused woman may not be able to go for regular medical checkups and may not have access to proper medical care. Her partner may actively prevent this or may restrict her access to funds allowing her to access health services. Women undergoing extreme stress caused by violence in the home may not seek out medical care because of unexplained injuries or the fact that medical assistance may not be a priority when other issues life safety and survival take precedent. Without regular medical care, heart problems, high blood pressure, and other risk factors may go unnoticed until the damage is done.
Abused Women Undergo Significant Stress Levels
Stress has long been associated with cardiovascular health. Increased stress levels due to reactions to violence and abuse can elevate blood pressure and weaken the body's ability to heal itself. Sustained levels of anxiety and disorders like PTSD that are commonly caused by escalating violence and abuse can wreak havoc on the heart. No one can exist in this type of environment and hope to remain healthy, let alone fend off cardiovascular disease or heart attack.
Intimate Partner Violence Can Lead to Alcoholism or Drug Abuse
While a moderate amount of drinking usually doesn't negatively affect the heart, women in toxic relationships are at risk for developing alcoholism or resorting to drug abuse. The levels of stress and depression women experience when intimate partner violence is present can lead to drinking as a means to escape one's situation. Unfortunately, alcoholism and drug abuse have been linked to stroke, high blood pressure, and other risk factors that can damage the heart.
Domestic Violence is Preventable Health Risk
The sad thing is that intimate partner violence can be prevented and discontinued. Front-line services such as law enforcement, women's shelters, counseling, and support services play a vital role in preventing and eliminating intimate partner violence and reducing the health consequences associated with it. While these services are improving each year, there is more to be done.
Women themselves are their best advocates. It is important that women be able to recognize the signs of domestic violence and understand that this type of situation is harmful to their health and can severely impact their heart health. It's not enough to just hope for a change, partners that commit abuse rarely seek out help on their own, and recovery from this behavior is a long and arduous process. Women must recognize that safety is a primary concern and getting themselves out of harm's way is the first step to recovering from intimate partner violence.
Get Help Now
If you or someone you love is a victim of domestic violence, there is aid and support available in the community. There are housing, financial, and legal resources available to victims of domestic violence to help them cope with situations they may encounter. Information on getting a protective order located at Women's Law and a Domestic Violence Shelter that can be contacted for help with housing. You can access their 24-hour hotline by calling (540) 886-6800.