Chronic Pain in Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

Child abuse is no laughing matter. There is nothing funny, positive, or even okay about it. The immediate effects of this horrible mistreatment of vulnerable human beings is obvious. Few people are surprised to learn that there are oftentimes long-lasting psychological ramifications. What may be surprising to some, however, is how far reaching the physical effects of childhood abuse may be.

The far reaching physical effects of childhood abuse may be directly related to the psychological effects. Children who suffer abuse tend to live with a constant sense of danger, which tends to lead to these individuals growing up with a heightened stress response. This heightened stress response leads to stronger emotional reactions, as well as creating sleeping difficulties and diminishing the immune system. Over time, these factors may join forces and increase the risk of physical illness. As these children age, they develop increased risk for headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and any number of chronic pain conditions

Adults who suffered abuse as children are approximately four to five times more likely to engage in heavy use of alcohol or use of illicit drugs. These same adults are approximately twice as likely to use tobacco, be physically inactive, and be significantly overweight. Each of these behaviors increases the likelihood of a person developing a number of conditions. Women who have suffered sexual abuse in childhood are more likely to suffer a number of gynecological conditions, including but not limited to, chronic pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, vaginismus (an instinctive, involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles when attempts are made to insert something into the vagina, be it fingers, a penis, or necessary medical equipment), or non-specific vaginitis.

In research circles, there is currently a push for doctors to inquire about a history of abuse when acquiring a patient’s medical history. However, several doctors admit that, at this point in time, they generally do not ask about this particular bit of history. Until this changes, it is unfortunately up to the patient to volunteer this information. Disclosing a history of abuse is, at best, uncomfortable. It is important to do so, however, because it just may provide your doctor with invaluable clues as to the origin of medical conditions, therefore allowing for thorough and accurate treatment.


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