The World Health Organization (WHO) reports, in a new publication focused on violence against women and the resulting health effects, that 35 percent of women worldwide have been victims of physical or sexual abuse from an intimate partner.

While the violence itself can cause physical trauma, it can also cause a wide range of psychological traumas. Violence can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which can also create substance abuse issues. The stresses of domestic abuse can even lead to failed immunity and organ function. Children birthed by mothers, who are victims, are often likely to be impacted healthwise, too.

The psychological issues related to domestic violence are posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies. All of these are rooted in stressful home environments, in which women feel they have no control over the painful things they endure each day from someone 'close.'

Often, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts are a coping mechanism for those feeling especially depressed, helpess, and anxious about their situation. AfterSilence.org, a suport website for women who have suffered sexual violence, estimates that almost 30 to 40 percent of eating disorder patients are survivors of sexual trauma while The National Association of Anorexia Nervose and Associated Disorders reports that 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. Mood disorders created by domestic abuse are preventable, but they often go unnoticed.

A lot of the time, depressions are masked in substance use and abuse. A 2004 study found that in Canada, 31 percent of individuals with a mood disorder like depression also met criteria for alcohol dependence. Similar trends are true for illicit drug and tobacco use. According to the WHO report, women experiencing domestic violence are 2.3 times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse issue and 2.6 times more likely to be depressed or suffer anxiety. Substance abuse can lead to poor health, as substances can have negative effects on the body, as the depression and anxiety disorders may negatively affect the nervous system's function.

WHO reports that women who suffer from domestic violence can develop cardiovascular disease, hypertension, irritable bowel syndromes, and chronic pain. Each of these issues affects a major organ — the heart, the digestive system, and the muscles. When major organs are compromised because the body is always in a state of shock or nervousness, as it is when one is subject to domestic partner violence, these issues can make a person very ill. Futures Without Violence reports that women experiencing chronic violence form partners are 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 80 percent more likely to have a stroke and 60 percent more likely to develop respiratory issues like asthma.

Violent relationships also make women more likely to have adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes. These, the WHO reports, are often the result of sexual violence and coercion, sabotage of birth control methods, and inability to negotiate condom use with a violent partner. Pregnancies that result are often unplanned and uncared for, leading to premature birth, 16 percent greater risk of having a low-birth weight baby, miscarriages, or abortions both legal and illegal. Similarly, these women often have no control over their partner and his indiscretions, which leads to poor sexual health in the form of sexually transmitted infections, 1.5 times greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, and gynecological issues.

WHO has published a vastly comprehensive review of causes of intimate partner violence and the health consequences that can occur. This is an important milestone in public health, as intimate partner violence is a serious threat to health, given that so many people are subject to it and its negative health outcomes. WHO hopes its report will help to prevent further perpetration of violence against women as well as remove the stigma associated with the poor health that results from intimate partner violence.

Source: Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence. World Health Organization. 2013.

Published by Medicaldaily.com