Abused Women Health, Somatization, and Posttraumatic Stress

University dissertation from Institutionen för molekylär och klinisk medicin

Abstract: The aims of this thesis were to estimate the lifetime prevalence of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in a random population-based sample of women aged 18-60 years; to estimate current suffering thereof; and to investigate associations between abuse and health problems, more specifically to study abuse related variables associated with somatization and PTSD, respectively.The studies had a cross-sectional design. Studies I and II comprised 4150 women 18-60 years. Study III included 547 women, and study IV consisted of 213 women, randomly selected from the population-based sample of the first two studies.The first study found lifetime prevalence rates of 19.4% for physical abuse, 9.2% for sexual abuse, and 18.2% for psychological abuse. Abused women reported more ill-health and a less advantageous social situation than non-abused women. There was an association between magnitude of abuse and health problems. Even a low magnitude of abuse was substantially associated with ill-health. In the second study we found that of the 27.5% of women who had reported any kind of abuse in the first study, 69.5 % reported current suffering thereof. Abused suffering women reported more health problems than abused non-suffering women and non-abused women, and abused non-suffering women reported more health problems than non-abused women. In study three, psychological abuse and sexual abuse without penetration were found to be associated with somatization. Physical abuse and sexual abuse with penetration were not associated with somatization, when adjustments for other kinds of abuse were made. In study four, PTSD and somatization were found to be separately reported phenomena in abused women, although PTSD was positively associated with having somatic symptoms. Women with PTSD reported higher total magnitude of abuse and a higher number of perpetrators than women with somatization. Sexually abused women with PTSD more often described their experience as an act of abuse compared with sexually abused women with somatization.The present thesis demonstrates that even a low magnitude of abuse is associated with health problems. It also shows that a majority of the abused women, when investigating lifetime history of abuse, reported current suffering thereof, which warrants considering abuse an important societal problem. The relationship between somatization and posttraumatic stress in abused women is discussed in relation to abuse variables. Other factors than severity of abuse, such as whether the abused woman herself perceives her experience as abuse, seem to be more decisive for development of somatization in abused women. The findings suggest that PTSD is not a necessary mediator between abuse and somatization.