Domestic abuse raises the risk of death by 44% finds study

A new study reveals that domestic abuse can raise the risk of deaths by 44 percent compared to the general population. A team of researchers from the University of Warwick and Birmingham has confirmed what has been suspected, and they found that domestic abuse survivors are more at risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Their study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Domestic abuse (DA) against women is a global public health problem. Although the possible health burden could be substantial, the associations between DA and subsequent cardiometabolic disease (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus) and all‐cause mortality are poorly understood. Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock
Domestic abuse (DA) against women is a global public health problem. Although the possible health burden could be substantial, the associations between DA and subsequent cardiometabolic disease (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus) and all‐cause mortality are poorly understood. Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

This new study reveals that one-quarter of women in Britain and one-third of all women around the world are victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse includes not only physical or sexual violence but also other forms of abuse, such as emotional, financial, and psychological abuse. They looked at medical records from UK GP surgeries between 1995 and 2017 and found that the mental and physical health of these women are at risk, and the law enforcement, as well as the NHS, needs to work closely help these women.

They found 18,547 women who had been registered with domestic abuse. These women were matched with 72,231 women of similar age, body mass index, smoking status, and level of deprivation. The control women had reported no domestic violence. Over time both sets of women were followed up for the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and all causes of death. Results showed that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease was raised by 31 percent among survivors of domestic violence. Similarly, the risk of getting type 2 diabetes rose by 51 percent among these women compared to women who had not been subjected to domestic violence. The risk of all-cause mortality among domestic abuse survivors was 44 percent higher, noted the researchers. The absolute risk of all-cause deaths was six per 1,000 women per year in the exposed cohort, wrote the researchers. For women not exposed to domestic violence, the absolute risk was 3.1 per 1,000 women per year. During the study period, there were 948 deaths in the total cohort of 91,778.

According to the study leader Dr. Joht Singh Chandan, “As further in-depth detail of the traumatic experiences is not available in these records it was not possible to assess whether the severity of domestic abuse was associated with a different risk impact. Considering the prevalence of domestic abuse, there is a public health burden of cardiometabolic disease likely due to domestic abuse. Although our study was not able to answer exactly why this relationship exists, we believe that it is likely due to the effects of acute and chronic stress.” He added, “Additionally, we know that exposure to domestic abuse may be associated with other lifestyle factors such as poor diet, alcohol, and smoking, as seen in our study.” He explained that all women who suffer from domestic abuse might not develop lifestyle disorders such as heart disease and diabetes, but the risk is substantially high.

Co-researcher on the study Dr. Krish Nirantharakumar also added that stakeholders in public health need to be sensitized to the problem statement. He said, “It is important for us to highlight to the government and public sector bodies to not only continue funding and supporting initiatives that prevent domestic abuse, but also invest in those services which can provide the support and care for survivors who have experienced such trauma, to prevent the development of these negative consequences which can be debilitating and disabling for life.”

Suzanne Jacob, the chief executive of SafeLives, in her statement on the study, said, “This research adds further weight to what we hear every day from survivors; that domestic abuse has a lasting impact on physical and mental health long after the abuse is over. We know that victims and survivors of domestic abuse will often present at hospitals and GP surgeries with symptoms such as unexplained pain, exhaustion, and anxiety. Hence, it’s vital that health professionals have the knowledge and support to recognize the signs and ask the right questions.” Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, also said, “Without a doubt, domestic abuse is one of the biggest health risks facing women today. Two women a week are killed by their current or former partner in England and Wales alone, and this is in addition to the severe and long-lasting impacts domestic abuse has on survivors’ mental and physical health.”

The government has announced funds to the tune of £16.6million to 75 projects across England to provide support and prevent domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill would be reintroduced soon. With the new funds, 43,000 survivors of domestic violence could be saved and protected. It would also help protect children from the effects of such abuse.

Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, said in a statement, “Domestic abuse destroys lives and leaves victims living in fear in their own homes – the place where they should feel most safe and secure. No victim of domestic abuse should have to struggle to get the right support or wait months for help that they need. This new funding of £16.6 million will help local areas better protect victims and their children and provide essential life-saving services, delivering the urgent support that they need to rebuild their lives.”

Journal reference:

Risk of Cardiometabolic Disease and All‐Cause Mortality in Female Survivors of Domestic Abuse Joht Singh Chandan MFPH , Tom Thomas MBBS , Caroline Bradbury‐Jones PhD , Julie Taylor PhD , Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay PhD , and Krishnarajah Nirantharakumar MD, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.014580

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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