WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Black women who were physically or sexually abused before age 11 have a raised risk of developing asthma as adults, according to a new study.
Researchers from Boston University suggested the stress and physical effects of abuse affect the immune system and airway development.
"This is the first prospective study to show an association between childhood abuse and adult-onset asthma," said study leader Patricia Coogan, senior epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center and associate professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, in a BU news release.
"The results suggest that chronic stress contributes to asthma onset, even years later," Coogan said.
For the study, published online Dec. 7 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers followed nearly 28,500 black women who participated in a U.S. study of black women's health between 1995 and 2011. The women were routinely surveyed about their health and also asked about any physical or sexual abuse they experienced as children and teenagers.
The study found the rate of adult-onset asthma was more than 20 percent higher among women who were abused as children. The researchers noted the link was stronger for physical abuse than for sexual abuse. There was little evidence, however, that the women abused as teenagers were at greater risk for asthma as adults.
However, although an association was noted between abuse and asthma, the study did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
Roughly 695,000 infants and children under 18 years old were identified as neglected or abused by state child protective service agencies in 2010, and 22 percent were black, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National statistics also reveal that asthma is more common among black people.
"Given the high prevalence of asthma and of childhood abuse in the United States, the association is of significant public health importance," Coogan concluded.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America provides more information on adult-onset asthma.