Female domestic abuse survivors '44 per cent more likely' to die from any cause

Maya Oppenheim
Women and children have been turned away from refuges because there are not enough places for those fleeing violence: Getty

Women who have been subjected to domestic abuse are 44 per cent more likely to die from any cause than the wider population, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Warwick and Birmingham discovered domestic abuse survivors are at increased risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study stresses the prevalence of domestic abuse – noting an estimated one in three women have experienced it globally and one in four women in Britain have suffered it.

The report, which looks at medical records from UK GP surgeries between 1995 and 2017, called for public services, such as the NHS and police, to work more closely together and improve data sharing mechanisms to ensure GPs are better placed to support the mental and physical health needs of patients who have suffered abuse.

Dr Joht Singh Chandan, the study’s lead author, said: “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.

“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 emphasised the fact not all women who experience domestic violence will go on to develop a long-term illness – adding knowledge of the physical and mental health impact of domestic abuse remains in its “infancy”.

Dr Krish Nirantharakumar, senior co-author, said the research shows the need for a public health approach to domestic abuse.

He added: “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.”

Researchers, whose report was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, said more studies were needed to work out why mortality rates are higher among domestic violence survivors.

Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive of SafeLives, 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, so it’s vital that health professionals have the knowledge and support to recognise the signs and ask the right questions.”

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, 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.”

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Domestic abuse survivors twice as likely to get long-term illnesses