past abuse and health




My mother died two days before reaching the age of 70. Most women on my mother’s side of the family died before the age of 70. Generational abuse ran in my family of origin. Past abuse and health are connected.

Studies show that past abuse can affect a survivor’s health years later. The violence, trauma and abuse may have occurred in childhood, adulthood, or both.

Alexis Jetter, Jennifer Braunschweiger, Natasha Lunn, Julia Fullerton-Batten wrote an article titled, “A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness”.  Adult women who have endured and escaped from domestic violence relationships may find themselves dealing with physical issues years later. The article is worth reading and includes the following:

“Domestic violence (DV) has an insidiously long half-life. Women who left their abusers five, 10, even 20 years ago and believed they had closed that chapter of their lives now face far higher than normal rates of chronic health problems, including arthritis and hormonal disorders, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain, severe headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. As a result, these women spend nearly 20 percent more money on medical care than other women. Annual U.S. medical costs attributable to domestic violence, including years-old assaults that still cause health problems, range from $25 billion to $59 billion, according to a 2008 study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the damage is from old physical injuries, some from the chronic stress of living in terror for too long. These findings were a surprise even to researchers who are exploring the DV–chronic illness connection. “When I started this work more than a decade ago, we knew that women who experienced violence were at higher risk of developing chronic diseases like asthma but our understanding of the bio-logical link was limited,” says Michele Black, an epidemiologist at the CDC who was the lead author of a landmark 2011 report on DV-related illness. “Now we’re beginning to understand why that might be. A woman in a violent relationship is often on high alert: She may be frightened about being killed or worried about her kids; if she tries to get away, she may be stalked. All that stress is really toxic. There’s no organ that’s immune. Your whole body is at risk.” —

Childhood sexual abuse and long-term health issues is a topic in the American Nurse Today. This article speaks to psychological and medical problems as well as healing. (Read:

In an article titled, “Abused Kids More Prone to Migraines in Adulthood”, Dr. Gretchen E. Tietjen, professor and chairwoman of neurology and director of the Headache Treatment and Research Program at the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio “was quick to note, however, that not all abused children develop migraines and not everyone who suffers from migraines or any other chronic painful condition was abused.

But those with a history of abuse “are more likely to have the worst cases of migraine,” she said. “They are the ones most likely to have a lot of the other pain conditions.” —

There are many articles and much research regarding the connections between past abuse and medical conditions. Much of this research explains the relationship in a more scientific and detailed manner. It helps to be aware that a certain health issue may be somehow related to past abuse. Unfortunately in our medical system, there are many times when psychological problems or even telling a physician that you are a survivor of trauma may cause problems with receiving decent medical care.

Physical symptoms need to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed as much as possible whether a person was abused or not. No individual wants to be dismissed or denigrated by a medical professional who sees PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), another psychological condition, or even a statement saying you are a survivor of abuse cloud the medical professional’s judgment negatively. The abuse (past or even present) is only one segment of the individual’s history – medical or otherwise. The abuse does not define the individual – not in any real sense, not in a medical sense, and definitely not in a spiritual sense.

In an ideal world, there would not be a stigma on mental illness or any psychological problem. A misguided or wrong diagnosis (whether for a physical ailment or a psychological condition) can cause extreme damage.

Many individuals choose to hide or feel forced to hide facts about themselves even from medical professionals. As a sober person of many years, I am open with my doctor regarding my status as a recovering alcoholic. There are many people in recovery from alcohol and/or drugs who do not want to share that status with medical professionals.

I am also open with my doctor regarding being a survivor of abuse who suffers from PTSD. There is no need to go into details of the abuse in my past; but, I provide the basic information. Fortunately I have a good relationship with my doctor. I want her to have an idea of the whole of me … not just the “medical” part of me. My sobriety, the abuse in my past, complex PTSD, and whatever problems that I experience medically in the present create a larger picture. I’m grateful my doctor seems to view me as the complex person I am (and that we all are in our own unique ways).

Beth W. Orenstein reports in an article for “Everyday Health” that “girls who were sexually and physically abused are at greater risk for heart attack, heart disease, and stroke when they become adults, according to a study published in the journal Circulation in 2011.”  (See:

My mother had a heart attack around the age of 50. My brother died when he was 52 years old. Heart disease and stroke run in my family on both my mother and father sides. It is interesting to know there is a link between abuse and heart issues. Maybe their problems began earlier than they might have if trauma had not been part of their histories also.

Pre-existing conditions should be covered by medical insurance especially in the case of medical and psychological issues caused by previous trauma in childhood, during a domestic violence (intimate partner) relationship, or rape. The victim/survivor should not be harmed further. Denying medical or psychological benefits often causes secondary trauma. This time the trauma is caused by established institutions.

The victim/survivor is not at fault. The guilt lies with the abuser, the torturer, the perpetrator.

I believe decent medical care and psychological care are rights (and not privileges depending on what country you reside or what economic class you belong). When a society chooses not to treat all human beings with equality and to not allow all people to receive decent medical and psychological care, then there is a level of societal guilt. The blame does not fall on the victim or survivor or the individual (who may or may not be a trauma survivor) without enough money.

My heart goes out to all survivors (and present victims). There are many people seeking medical or psychological help who cannot afford decent care or any care at all. Reach out for the help you can afford.

Take gentle and extra care of yourself.

Do the best you are able to do for yourself and for others.

Form a community of compassion, if possible, – no matter how tiny or big.

Be compassionate to others and to yourself.

Live the life you have.

Be who you are … the authentic you!

Keep an eye out for the joy amidst the challenges.

Share the joy with others – even through a simple smile!