Domestic abuse survivors twice at risk of long-term illnesses

Domestic abuse survivors twice at risk of long-term illnesses
©iStock/Marjan_Apostolovic

A new study has revealed the long-term dangers posed to female survivors of domestic abuse.

A study by the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick shows that female survivors of domestic abuse are at double the risk of developing long-term illnesses that cause widespread bodily pain and extreme tiredness.

Published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, the research shows that women who have experienced domestic abuse are almost twice as likely to develop fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) than those who have not.

The long-term impact of abuse

The study, the first of its kind, examined the GP records dating between 1995 and 2017 of 18,547 women who had suffered domestic abuse, compared to 74,188 who had not.

They found the risk of developing fibromyalgia and CFS in women who have experienced domestic abuse was twice the rate of those who had no recorded experience by their GP, after taking into account factors which may influence the association.

It comes after previous study led by the University of Birmingham published in June 2019 showed that UK domestic abuse victims are three times more likely to develop severe mental illnesses.

However, up until now there have been few studies designed to assess the relationship between women who have been abused and the likelihood of them developing long-term illnesses such as fibromyalgia and CFS.

Fibromyalgia causes pain all over the body, while CFS is an illness with a wide range of symptoms, most common of which is extreme tiredness. They are both long-term conditions.

Dr Joht Singh Chandan, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said: “Domestic abuse is a global public health issue, with as many as one in three women affected world-wide.

“Recent UK estimates suggest that 27.1% of women have experienced some form of domestic abuse, with a large proportion of these cases expected to be women who have suffered violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

“Considering the prevalence of domestic abuse, and the fact that patients experiencing fibromyalgia and CFS often face delays in diagnosis due to a limited understanding generally of how these conditions are caused, it is important for clinicians to bear in mind that women who have survived abuse are at a greater risk of these conditions.

“We hope these first of their kind research findings will change healthcare practice and will be of assistance in the early diagnosis of fibromyalgia and CFS in women who have been abused.”

The psychological and physiological impact of stress

Professor Julie Taylor, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Nursing, said: “Survivors of domestic abuse can experience immense physiological and psychological stress.

“The changes that happen in the body as a result of such stress can lead to a multitude of poor health outcomes such as what we see in our study here. However, more research needs to be done to establish the biopsychosocial pathways that cause this link between abuse and these types of health conditions.”

The research was a multi-disciplinary collaboration between researchers working across the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, School of Nursing, Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, and Department of Economics, together with the University of Warwick’s Medical School.

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