A Swedish study found that children who experience or witness physical abuse are more likely to experience psychosomatic symptoms.
The study, which consisted of 2,510 children (ages 10, 12 and 15) from 44 schools, found a strong link between “reported physical abuse and three or more psychosomatic symptoms,” especially among children who had also witnessed intimate partner violence (IPV).
“The children were asked if they had experienced any of the following symptoms at least twice in the last month: stomach ache, headache, sleeplessness, dizziness, back pain and loss of appetite” said co-author Staffan Janson. “They were also asked about 13 common chronic conditions, bullying and school performance, to eliminate any other factors that could cause the symptoms, and about whether they had been physically abused and witnessed IPV at home.”
Some of the study’s key findings include:
- Forty-two percent of the children had at least one chronic condition, 10% had two chronic conditions and 4% had three or more.
- One in six of the children (16%) had suffered physical abuse or witnessed IPV in the home — 9% reported just physical abuse, 4% reported IPV alone and 3% reported both.
- Two-thirds of the children (66%) reported at least one psychosomatic symptom and just over a third of these children (35%) reported three symptoms or more.
- The most common symptoms were headache (38%), sleeplessness (36%) and stomach ache (31%).
- 86% of the children who reported that they were physically abused and had witnessed IPV at home reported at least one psychosomatic symptom, with 41% reporting three or more, compared with 17% of the non-abused children.
- 82% of the children who reported physical abuse only reported at least one symptom, with 35% reporting three or more symptoms compared with 17% of the non-abused children.
- When confounding factors, such as chronic conditions, bullying and school performance were taken into account, the odds of a child suffering physical abuse, with or without IPV, was 112% higher than a child who was not being abused. When IPV was added into the equation, this rose to 171% higher.
“Our study demonstrates a clear association between high levels of psychosomatic symptoms and an increased risk of physical abuse” said Janson. “The association was even stronger in abused children who also witnessed intimate partner violence at home. The findings suggest that healthcare professionals should consider the possibility of physical abuse if a child presents with three or more regular psychosomatic symptoms a month. However, it is also important that they rule out any confounding factors, such as chronic illness, bullying and school performance when assessing the child.”
Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.