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Domestic Violence-Related Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries in Women

The Question: What is the rate of occurrence and consequences of traumatic brain injury caused by domestic violence?

Past Studies by the American Psychological Association define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior including causing physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm. Domestic violence is recognized as a major public health concern. Historically, most of the research pertaining to domestic violence has focused on psychological issues. Studies indicate that a woman’s face, neck, and head are the locations most frequently injured during physical domestic violence. There have been few studies that have further explored the relationship between domestic violence, physical injuries to the head, and traumatic brain injury; however, some of the findings suggest that survivors of traumatic brain injuries caused by domestic violence are more likely to have below average recoveries.

This Study attempted to survey 169 women who came to three metropolitan emergency departments with injuries and health issues directly related to domestic violence within a 7 to 9 month period. The women were referred by the emergency room personnel to sexual assault-domestic violence health staff who had been trained in the use of the survey and given resource and referral information about traumatic brain injuries. Fifty-one women, or about 30% of the 169 women, agreed to or were able to complete the survey at the time of the emergency room visit. Forty-six women responded to all items on the survey.

Of the 46 women, a total of 71 separate cases of physical assault were reported. Thirty-eight percent of the women reported multiple assaults. Overall, 35% of the survey participants were identified as possibly having sustained a mild traumatic brain injury and were referred to appropriate services.

Fourteen women, 30% of this group, reported that they experienced a loss of consciousness on at least one occasion. Fifteen percent of the women were hospitalized as a direct result of injuries to the head. Sixty-seven percent of the women, both who did and did not experience a loss of consciousness, reported symptoms associated with mild traumatic brain injury, such as headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss. The majority of women reported experiencing more than one symptom of traumatic brain injury, which is characteristic of a condition called postconcussive syndrome.

Who May Be Affected By These Findings: Women in domestic violence relationships, researchers, healthcare personnel, domestic violence personnel, prevention specialists

Caveats: The researchers could not explain why women with traumatic brain injuries caused by domestic violence appear to have less than average recoveries or appear likely to develop postconcussive syndrome. They speculated that it may be the nature of receiving a brain injury from a blow to the head that causes the brain to rotate, that female hormones may play a role in recovery, or that women who are subject to intimate partner violence have had multiple injuries..

Bottom Line: The researchers found that 67% of the women surveyed had symptoms associated with traumatic brain injury. Thirty percent of the women reported a loss of consciousness after a blow to the head. Sixty percent reported no loss of consciousness following a blow to the head, but reported symptoms associated with traumatic brain injury. The researchers suspect that women who receive a traumatic brain injury as the result of domestic violence may be more likely than others to experience postconcussive syndrome. The researchers advocate for further studies to explore the nature and consequences of domestic violence and traumatic brain injury. Based on these results, the researchers also advocate for early screening for traumatic brain injuries so that women may receive treatment and prevent further injuries.

Find This Study:
Corrigan, J.D., Wolfe, M., Mysiw, J., Jackson, R.D., & Bogner, J.A. Early identification of mild traumatic brain injury in female victims of domestic violence. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynocology, 188, S71-S76.


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