A new study shows that women who do not speak up for themselves — called self-silencing — have increased carotid plaque buildup, which could lead to a stroke or other cardiovascular problems.
People engage in a range of behaviors to maintain close relationships, some of which may be costly to their own health, researchers note. One of those damaging behaviors is self-silencing, which is sometimes used to avoid conflict or relationship loss. Although self-silencing has been linked to worse mental and self-reported physical health in women, it has not been previously examined in relation to women’s cardiovascular health, researchers note.
In this new study of 304 nonsmoking women, researchers tested whether self-silencing was associated with carotid atherosclerosis. They found that greater self-silencing was related to increased odds of plaque, independent of socio-demographics, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and depression.
The results were based on women’s self-reporting on a range of factors, such as how often they expressed anger or put someone else’s needs before their own, the researchers reported. Ultrasound imaging was used to quantify carotid plaque.
“Given increased public health interest in women’s experiences in intimate relationships, our results suggest that women’s socio-emotional expression may be relevant to their cardiovascular health,” said lead author Karen Jakubowski from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.
The study was presented at the 2019 North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting.