Women who have experienced abuse in childhood or as adults are far more likely than are other women to develop common illnesses, according to results of a Swedish study. “The manifestations and forms of violence vary in different settings, and virtually wherever this issue has been researched an under-recognized burden has been unveiled,” according to Dr. Gunilla Krantz from the Nordic School of Public Health in Goteborg and Dr. Per-Olof Ostergren from Malmo University Hospital in Sweden.

The investigators examined the link between violence and abuse during childhood or adulthood and the development of common symptoms in 397 women aged 40 to 50 years.

Nearly one third of the women reported abuse during childhood, and one in seven experienced abuse as an adult, the authors report. Ten percent of women had been victims of violence or abuse both as children and as adults. Women who had been beaten regularly as children were more than 11 times as likely as other women were to have a large number of medical symptoms, the report indicates, and those who had experienced sexual abuse as adults were 7 times more likely than others to have a high number of illnesses.

Overall, women subjected to abuse as children or adults faced about twice the risk of developing multiple medical symptoms faced by other women, the researchers note in the November issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Low levels of social support substantially increased the levels of symptoms among abused women, the investigators observe.

Based on these findings, the authors conclude that acts of violence or abuse during childhood or at adult age are independent predictors of a high level of common symptoms in women in their 40s. “We believe that all women presenting in primary healthcare with multiple symptoms should be asked about experiences of violence or abuse, as it most often goes unrecognized and unreported,” Krantz and Ostergren assert.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2000;54:815-821.

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