Serious Medical Problems and Health Risks

(Includes HIV and Developmental Disabilities)

Maltreatment at an early age can have enduring negative effects on the brain and can cause multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults. Both adults and children with trauma histories are at high risk for HIV/AIDS. A significant percentage of developmental disabilities are the result of child abuse.

Facts and Discussion Points:

1---Medical impacts of childhood abuse include: head trauma, brain injury, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, HIV infection, physical disabilities (back, orthopedic, neck, etc.) chronic pelvic pain, headaches, stomach pain, nausea, sleep disturbance, eating disorder, asthma, shortness of breath, chronic muscle tension, muscle spasms, and elevated blood pressure.1-5

2---Adults who experience multiple types of abuse and violence in childhood (compared to those who do not) are found to have a 2- to 4-fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, more than 50 sexual intercourse partners, sexually transmitted disease, a higher rate of physical inactivity, and severe obesity.6

3---Adverse childhood exposures show a relationship to the presence of adult diseases, including ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease.6

4---Severe and prolonged childhood sexual abuse causes damage to the brain structure, resulting in impaired memory, dissociation, and symptoms of PTSD.7-9

5---Women with histories of sexual abuse are at higher risk for unprotected sex, increased number of sexual partners, prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction—all of which are risk factors for HIV/AIDS.10

6---Homeless women, especially homeless mentally ill women, are at high risk for sexual abuse, sexual assault, and “sex for barter” activities that increase their risk for HIV/AIDS.11

7---Promiscuity and prostitution (as a means of supporting substance abuse/addiction) often correlate to prior sexual abuse, and result in increased risk of HIV infection.12

8---Childhood violence is a significant causal factor in 10 to 25% of all developmental disabilities.13, 14

9---Three to six percent of all children will have some degree of permanent disability as a result of abuse.13, 14

10---Between 20% and 50% of abused children suffer mild to severe brain damage.15

Serious Medical Problems and Health Risks References

1-Prescott, L. (1998). Women emerging in the wake of violence. Los Angeles, CA: Prototype Systems Change Center.

2-Cunningham, J., Pearce, T., & Pearce, P. (1988). Childhood sexual abuse and medical complaints in adult women, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3,131-144.

3-Morrison, J. (1989). Childhood sexual histories of women with somatization disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 239-241.

4-Springs, F., & Friedrich, W. (1993). Health risk behaviors and medical sequelae of childhood sexual abuse. Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

5-Walker, E., Katon, W., Harrop-Griffiths, J., Holm, I., Russo, J., & Hickok, L. (1988). Relationship of chronic pelvic pain to psychiatric diagnosis and childhood sexual abuse. American J. of Psychiatry, 145, 75-80.

6-Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med, 14:245-258.

7-Briere, J. (1997). Child abuse trauma: Theory and treatment of the lasting effects. Sage Publications.

8-van der Kolk, B. (1996). The body keeps the score: Approaches to the psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In van der Kolk et al. (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society. Guilford Press.

9-Perry. (1994). Biological and neurobehavioral studies of borderline personality disorder. In K. Silk (Ed.), Progress In Psychiatry, No. 45. American Psychiatric Press.

10-Brady et al. (2002). Physical and sexual abuse in the lives of HIV-infected women. Journal of AIDS/HIV.

11-Brady et al. (2000). Aids risk and knowledge. Journal of Health Care Safety. Compliance and Infection Control.

12-R. Mazelis (personal communication, April 2002).

13-Sobsey, D. (1994). Violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities: The end of silent acceptance? Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes.

14-Valenti-Hein, D., & Schwartz, L. (1995). The sexual abuse interview for those with developmental disabilities. Santa Barbara, CA: James Stanfield Company.

15-Rose, E., & Hardman, M. L. (April 1981). The abused mentally retarded child. Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, Vol. 16(2):114-118.