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BJOG. 2004 Oct;111(10):1121-7.

A history of sexual abuse and health: a Nordic multicentre study.

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1
Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

To determine if a history of sexual abuse is associated with objective and subjective indicators of health and if certain abusive incidents had a stronger impact on health than others.

DESIGN:

A cross-sectional, multicentre study.

SETTING:

Five gynaecological departments in the five Nordic countries.

SAMPLE:

Three thousand five hundred and thirty-nine gynaecology patients.

METHODS:

The NorVold Abuse Questionnaire (NorAQ) on abuse history and current health was mailed to all patients who consented to participate.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Reason for index visit at the gynaeocological clinic as well as several questions on health were recorded. General health status was measured as self-estimated health, psychosomatic symptoms (headache, abdominal pain, muscle, weakness, dizziness), number of health care visits and number of periods on sick leave.

RESULT:

A history of sexual abuse was reported by 20.7% of respondents. A history of sexual abuse was significantly associated with chronic pelvic pain as reason for index visit (P < 0.01), laparoscopic surgery (P < 0.01), psychosomatic symptoms (P < 0.01), self-estimated poor health (P < 0.01), many health care visits (P < 0.01) and high incidence of sick leave (P < 0.01). Several subgroups within the group of sexually abused women were more likely to report poor health: women abused as both children and adults, women who experienced additional emotional and/or physical abuse and women abused by a person they knew.

CONCLUSION:

Sexual abuse has a profound impact on women's health. Taking a history of sexual abuse seems particularly warranted when the patient presents with chronic pelvic pain or symptoms of a vague and diffuse nature.

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