As part of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Institute for Women’s Health is extremely proud of its specialized services for women and serves as a leader in promoting standards of excellence in women’s health care. An emphasis on ‘making the connection’ between violence against women and public health is resulting in coordinating efforts to increase awareness and prevention of domestic and sexual violence in our community
Domestic and sexual violence is a health care problem of epidemic proportions. In addition to the immediate trauma caused by abuse, domestic violence contributes to a number of chronic health problems, including depression, alcohol and substance abu3se, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, and often limits the ability of women to manage other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
Domestic Violence is associated with 8 out of 10 of the leading indicators for Healthy People 2010: Tobacco Use, Substance Abuse, Injury and Violence, Mental Health, Responsible Sexual Behavior, Health Care Access, Immunization, and Obesity.
Domestic Violence is a public health issue and has serious health consequences
According to the Virginia Department of Health Division of Injury and Violence Prevention, domestic violence is more prevalent among women than diabetes, breast cancer and cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the costs of intimate partner violence in 1995 were more than $5.8 billion. This includes approximately $4 billion in the direct costs of medical and mental health care and nearly $1.8 billion in the indirect costs of lost productivity. Victims of severe intimate partner violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work – the equivalent of more than 32,000 full time jobs.
The Health and Mental Health Impact
Domestic Violence is a serious health issue and contributes to many immediate and chronic health problems in victims. In addition to injuries sustained by victims during violent episodes, physical and psychological abuse is linked to a number of adverse medical health effects. A history of victimization is linked to significant long term chronic health problems and health risk behaviors.
Some reported health consequences include:
- Chronic pain syndromes, such as chronic pelvic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal disorders;
- Eating disorders, musculoskeletal complaints and traumatic brain injury impairments such as short-term memory loss, trouble concentrating, fatigue, loss of balance, blurred vision, and ringing in the ears.
- Behavioral health impacts, sleep disturbances such as insomnia and night terrors, anxiety, panic, depression, hyper- vigilance, “post” traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, suicidal ideation or attempts;
- Gynecological problems, including STDs and exposure to HIV because of coerced sexual activity, urinary tract infections, and pelvic pain.
Pregnancy And Domestic Violence
Pregnant women, particularly pregnant teens, are frequent targets of abuse and are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause. Women with unintended pregnancies are two to four ties more likely to experience physical violence than women with planned pregnancies Complications of pregnancy are significantly higher for victims of domestic violence and include preterm labor, low birth weight babies, anemia, infections and first and second trimester bleeding.
With pregnancy and domestic abuse, comes a higher risk for tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use, depression and suicide attempts, all of which have negative effects on the developing fetus. Battered pregnant women are up to 4 times more likely to deliver low-birth weight infants than non-battered pregnant women.
Talk to your Doctor or Health Provider
The healthcare setting offers a critical and unique opportunity for early identification and even prevention of abuse; health providers can help patients understand the connection between abuse, health problems and risk behaviors. Abuse may aggravate a presenting problem or compromise treatment of existing conditions, sharing information about violence in relationships can help your health provider provide the most effective care and options. They can help patients improve their options for health and safety by assessing the violence, validating the patients experience, briefly discussing safety and documenting the abuse in the medical record, and making referrals to domestic violence experts.
If you are in an abusive relationship—or if you think you might be in one but you’re not sure—talk to your health care provider. Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers can help you improve your health and your safety by assessing your situation and your risk, documenting abuse in your medical record (where the information will be protected by privacy laws but still available if you need it), and referring you to domestic violence experts.