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Sexual and Physical Abuse in Women with Functional or Organic Gastrointestinal Disorders

Douglas A. Drossman, MD; Jane Leserman, PhD; Ginette Nachman, MD; Zhiming Li, MD; Honi Gluck, MD; Timothy C. Toomey, PhD; and C. Madeline Mitchell, MURP
[+] Article and Author Information

Grant Support: In part by the Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Requests for Reprints: Douglas A. Drossman, MD, Division of Digestive Diseases, 420 Burnett-Womack Building, CB #7080, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7080.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Drossman, Leserman, Nachman, Li, and Ms. Mitchell: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, 420 Burnett-Womack Building, CB #7080, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7080.

Dr. Gluck: 11831 Falls Road, Cockeysville, MD 21030.

Dr. Toomey: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, CB #7160, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7160.


© 1990 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1990;113(11):828-833. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-113-11-828
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Study Objectives: To determine the prevalence of a history of sexual and physical abuse in women seen in a referral-based gastroenterology practice, to determine whether patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders report greater frequencies of abuse than do patients with organic gastrointestinal diseases, and to determine whether a history of abuse is associated with more symptom reporting and health care utilization.

Design: A consecutive sample of women seen in a universitybased gastroenterology practice over a 2-month period was asked to complete a brief questionnaire.

Measurements: The self-administered questionnaire requested information about demographics, symptoms, health care utilization, and history of abuse. Physicians indicated the primary diagnosis for each patient and whether she had ever discussed having been sexually or physically abused.

Results: Of 206 patients, 89 (44%) reported a history of sexual or physical abuse in childhood or later in life; all but 1 of the physically abused patients had been sexually abused. Almost one third of the abused patients had never discussed their experiences with anyone; only 17% had informed their doctors. Patients with functional disorders were more likely than those with organic disease diagnoses to report a history of forced intercourse (odds ratio, 2.08; 95% CI, 1.03 to 4.21) and frequent physical abuse (odds ratio, 11.39; CI, 2.22 to 58.48), chronic or recurrent abdominal pain (odds ratio, 2.06; CI, 1.03 to 4.12), and more lifetime surgeries (2.7 compared with 2.0 surgeries; P < 0.03). Abused patients were more likely than nonabused patients to report pelvic pain (odds ratio, 4.05; CI, 1.41 to 11.69), multiple somatic symptoms (7.1 compared with 5.8 symptoms; P < 0.001), and more lifetime surgeries (2.8 compared with 2.0 surgeries; P < 0.01).

Conclusions: We found that a history of sexual and physical abuse is a frequent, yet hidden, experience in women seen in referral-based gastroenterology practice and is particularly common in those with functional gastrointestinal disorders. A history of abuse, regardless of diagnosis, is associated with greater risk for symptom reporting and lifetime surgeries.

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