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Poor Health In Pregnancy And After Childbirth Tied To History Of Abuse

CHAPEL HILL, NC - Women with a history of sexual and physical abuse are more likely to have poor health during pregnancy and after childbirth, according to a study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study - presented March 18 at the Psychosomatic Society of America Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada - is among the first to examine how a history of abuse may affect postpartum depression and other indicators of health status after pregnancy, says Dr. Jane Leserman, research associate professor of psychiatry at the UNC-CH School of Medicine.

"The association of poor health with sexual and physical abuse history has been established among patient populations with chronic pain and in primary care, including women with gastrointestinal disorders," Leserman says. "I was interested in seeing whether abuse history would be an important predictor of health during a vulnerable time in women's lives."

The medical sociologist notes anecdotal reports suggesting that the experience of pregnancy and giving birth might "bring back" memories and feelings associated with physical and sexual abuse suffered earlier.

The new study involved 68 pregnant patients at a university obstetrics clinic. Leserman and her colleagues established sexual abuse histories through responses to key interview questions, such as, "Had anyone ever succeeded in touching the sex parts of your body or made you touch the sex parts of their body by using force or threatening to harm you?" Physical abuse was tapped by asking, "Had anyone, including family or friend, ever attacked you with or without a weapon but with the intent to kill you or seriously injure you?" Also included were questions pertaining to physical harm from being kicked, beaten or hurt in other ways.

Of 47 women for whom complete data were available, 16 (34 percent) said they had been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. "The large majority had both sexual and physical abuse," the Lese
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Contact: Lynn Wooten
lwooten.est1@mail.unch.unc.edu
919 966-6046
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
18-Mar-1999


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