Previous Domestic Violence May Cause Chronic Conditions That Emerge During Menopause

Patient Expert

Many women find that their body seems to go haywire as they go through the menopausal transition.   In fact, the risk of certain medical conditions - cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, sexual issues and weight gain - increase as women move through this stage of life.

But for some women, health issues that emerge during this time may be tied to a difficult time in their earlier years -- domestic violence. Listen to what Dr. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe of Western University told More writer Alexis Jetter in the magazine's November 2013 issue: "We tend to think that once the violence is done, everyone's fine and the woman goes off into the sunset. But she turns 45 and she's got all kinds of crazy health problems, and she thinks, Where did this come from? This woman has health problems that are more likely in a woman who is much older."

The story suggests that many chronic illnesses such as migraines, arthritis, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease and hormonal disorders are more common among women who have suffered from domestic abuse. Additionally, the damage from domestic violence can play havoc with brain function, immune response (which protects the body from bacteria, viruses and other substances that may be harmful to the body), the endocrine system (which is a collection of glands that secrete various hormones that regulate a person's metabolism, development, tissue function, sexual function, sleep, mood and reproductive function) and telomeres (which are stretches of DNA that protect genetic data on our chromosomes).

And surprisingly, these conditions can emerge as many as 20 years after the abused woman removed herself from the abuse.   The reasons range from living with long-term chronic stress to old physical injuries. Domestic violence also is tied to a significant long-term financial cost, both for the woman and the nation. The More story points out that almost 20 percent more money is spent by these women on medical care; the annual cost for abused women in the United States ranges   between $25 billion and $59 billion.

The story also suggests that many health care professionals have not made the connection between earlier domestic violence and these chronic illnesses. Furthermore, many health care professionals are not properly diagnosing injuries when the domestic violence actually happens, even though one in four women are projected to have experienced some sort of severe physical violence by a partner.   And the violence can be fairly gruesome, including blunt-force trauma to the head, neck and face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that up to 68 percent of women who have survived domestic violence who show up in an emergency room have been strangled and one-third have lost consciousness at least one time due to the abuse.

Therefore, it's really important to recognize physical abuse if you're currently in a relationship. Signs include:

  • Pulling hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking.
  • Forbidding you to eat or sleep.
  • Damaging property when angry.
  • Using weapons to threaten or to hurt you.
  • Trapping you at home or keeping you from leaving.
  • Preventing you from calling the police.
  • Preventing you from seeking medical attention.
  • Harming children.
  • Abandoning you in unfamiliar places.
  • Driving dangerously when you're a passenger in the car.
  • Forcing you to use alcohol or drugs.

And if you've escaped domestic abuse many years ago and are finding new chronic health issues emerging, you should have a candid talk with your doctor. I'd encourage you to take a copy of the More article with you to the appointment so you can educate your doctor about the potential long-term health effects with which you may be dealing.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection. (ND). Long term effects of domestic violence.

Jetter, A. (2013). D_omestic violence: A hidden cause of chronic illness._ More.

Mayo Clinic. (ND). Menopause.

MedlinePlus. (2012). I_mmune response._

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2011). Warning signs and red flags.

University of Utah Health Sciences. (ND). Are telomeres the key to aging and cancer?

Zimmermann, K. A. (2013). Endocrine system: Facts, functions and diseases.