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Psychosom Med. 1992 Nov-Dec;54(6):658-64.

Medical and psychiatric symptoms in women with childhood sexual abuse.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle 98195.


Although there is increasing awareness of the short-term psychological and social adaptations to childhood sexual abuse, little is known about the long-term effects of such abuse, particularly its effect on subsequent medical utilization and the experience and reporting of physical symptoms. We re-analyzed data from a previous study of 100 women scheduled for diagnostic laparoscopy (50 for chronic pain, 50 for tubal ligation or infertility evaluation) who received structured, physician-administered psychiatric and sexual abuse interviews. Women were regrouped by severity of childhood sexual abuse, and we compared the groups with respect to lifetime psychiatric diagnoses and medically unexplained symptom patterns. Unadjusted odds ratios showed that risk for lifetime diagnoses of major depression, panic disorder, phobia, somatization disorder and drug abuse, and current diagnoses of major depression and somatoform pain disorder were significantly higher in the severely abused group compared with women with no abuse or less severe abuse. Logistic regression analysis demonstrated that number of somatization symptoms, lifetime panic disorder and drug dependence were predictive of a prior history of severe childhood sexual abuse. Psychiatric disorders and medical symptoms, particularly chronic pelvic pain, are common in women with histories of severe childhood sexual abuse. Clinicians should inquire about childhood sexual and physical abuse experiences in patients with multiple medical and psychiatric symptoms, particularly patients with chronic pelvic pain.

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