Survey Finds Health Problems More Common for Victims of Violence

Domestic and sexual violence are pervasive and costly, and can create health problems that last a lifetime, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, published in the February 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It finds 1,200 deaths and two million injuries to women from intimate partner violence each year, and nearly 600,000 injuries to men. Nearly one in four women reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend sometime in her life.

Specifically, the survey finds that women who have experienced partner violence are at significantly greater risk for heart disease, stroke, asthma, arthritis, heavy drinking, risky sex, and for needing a cane or wheelchair than women who have not experienced partner violence – defined as threatened, attempted or completed physical violence or unwanted sex by a current or former partner.

Women who have experienced domestic violence are 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 60 percent more likely to have asthma and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than women who have not experienced intimate partner violence (IPV).

“This is one of the largest health studies of intimate partner violence ever conducted in the U.S., and it identifies a critical gap in the delivery of health care to battered women,” said Family Violence Prevention Fund President Esta Soler. “Rarely do providers ask their patients about violence, or explain how it can affect patients’ health. That needs to change.”

“Whether IPV is followed by adverse health conditions or adverse health conditions lead to IPV, both are likely to affect the overall health of affected persons, suggesting that clinicians should consider assessing exposure to IPV when patients have signs or symptoms of stress or other conditions that are consistent with IPV,” said the editorial note. “Such assessment might influence the diagnosis, treatment plan, and ability of the patient to adhere to treatment.”

“Doctors, nurses and other health care providers can do a tremendous amount to help victims of domestic and sexual violence, but they must be trained to do so and taught the most effective interventions, both when violence is occurring and when treating the health problems that can result,” Soler agreed. “We must fund programs at the federal level to train health care providers to routinely assess patients for domestic and sexual violence.”

“Adverse Health Conditions and Health Risk Behaviors Associated with Intimate Partner Violence” is in the February 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5705a1.htm.

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