Women who were sexually abused as children have high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, a new study has found.

Researchers said that middle-aged women with sexual-abuse history are more likely to show signs of atherosclerosis earlier than other women. The research reveals that these women are a high-risk group of heart disease.

Previous research has shown that abuse during childhood can lead to several chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.

Atherosclerosis is when plaque builds up in arteries. The condition can increase heart disease risk.

The present study was based on data from 1,400 Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and Chinese women aged between 42-52 years.

In the study group, about 16 percent of the women reported that they were sexually abused during childhood.

Researchers found that women with a history of sexual abuse were more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis. The team accounted for other factors such as blood pressure, lipids, and body mass, but none of them could explain the link between abuse and atherosclerosis.

Also, a history of sexual abuse and not physical abuse was associated with the rise in heart disease risk.

"These study findings indicate the importance of considering early life stressors on women's later cardiovascular health," said Rebecca C. Thurston, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, from Women's Behavioral and Health Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

"Women who have a history of childhood sexual abuse should report it to their physicians and healthcare providers," Thurston said in a news release. "If physicians are able, they should ask about child abuse. Considering child abuse can be important in understanding a woman's cardiovascular risk."

Thurston plans to continue the research and find how sexual abuse affects heart health of women.

The study is published in the journal Stroke.