Female survivors of domestic abuse are at double the risk of developing long-term illnesses that cause widespread bodily pain and extreme tiredness, according to a new study.
The study, from researchers at the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick in the U.K., found 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.
Fibromyalgia causes pain all over the body, while CFS is an illness with a wide range of symptoms. The most common is extreme tiredness. They are both long-term conditions.
For the study, researchers examined the General Practitioner (GP) records from 1995 to 2017 of 18,547 women who had suffered domestic abuse. They were then compared to records from 74,188 women 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 that may influence the association.
The new study follows a June 2019 study led by researchers at the University of Birmingham that showed that U.K. 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, the researchers noted.
“Domestic abuse is a global public health issue, with as many as one in three women affected world-wide,” said Dr. Joht Singh Chandan, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick. “Recent UK estimates suggest that 27.1 percent 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,” he said.
“We hope these first of their kind research findings will change health care practice and will be of assistance in the early diagnosis of fibromyalgia and CFS in women who have been abused.”
“Survivors of domestic abuse can experience immense physiological and psychological stress,” added Professor Julie Taylor of the University of Birmingham’s School of Nursing. “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.
“This is a very complex relationship and it is important to emphasize that not all women who have been abused will develop fibromyalgia or CFS, and that having these conditions does not mean there has been domestic abuse in the past,” she said.
The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
Source: University of Birmingham