Physically abused children report higher levels of psychosomatic symptoms

February 9, 2012

Children who display multiple psychosomatic symptoms, such as regular aches and pains and sleep and appetite problems, are more than twice as likely to be experiencing physical abuse at home than children who do not display symptoms, according to a study in the March edition of Acta Paediatrica.

Swedish researchers who studied 2,510 children aged 10, 12 and 15 from 44 schools found a strong association between reported and three or more psychosomatic symptoms. The association was highest in children who were physically abused and also witnessed intimate partner violence (IPV). However, there was no significant association between IPV on its own and multiple symptoms.

"The children were asked if they had experienced any of the following symptoms at least twice in the last month: stomach ache, headache, sleeplessness, , and loss of appetite" explains co-author Professor Staffan Janson from the Division of Public Health Sciences at Karlstad University, Sweden.

"They were also asked about 13 common , bullying and , to eliminate any other factors that could cause the symptoms, and about whether they had been physically abused and witnessed IPV at home."

The study sample was equally split between , with approximately one third of the sample coming from each of the three .

Key findings of the study included:

  • Most of the children were born in Sweden (89%) and living with both (74%). Just under half (42%) 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 (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.
  • There was no significant difference in the symptoms reported by children who did or did not report just IPV.
  • 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 (OR 2.12) than a child who was not being abused. When IPV was added into the equation, this rose to 171% higher (OR 2.71)
  • The odds for a child suffering physical abuse only was 72% higher (OR 1.72) and the odds for IPV only was 9% higher (OR 1.09).
  • Abused children with chronic conditions reported significantly more psychosomatic symptoms than abused children without chronic conditions.
"Our study demonstrates a clear association between high levels of psychosomatic symptoms and an increased risk of physical abuse" says Professor Janson. "The association was even stronger in abused children who also witnessed 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."

Explore further: Study suggests link between childhood bullying and adult intimate partner violence perpetration

More information: Multiple psychosomatic symptoms can indicate child physical abuse – results from a study of Swedish schoolchildren. Jernbro et al. Acta Paediatrica. 101, pp. 324-329. (March 2012). DOI:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2011.02518.x

Related Stories

Study suggests link between childhood bullying and adult intimate partner violence perpetration

June 6, 2011
Men who report having bullied peers in childhood appear to have an increased risk of perpetrating violence against an intimate partner in adulthood, according to a report posted online today by the Archives of Pediatrics ...

Researchers find link between childhood physical abuse, chronic fatigue syndrome

May 16, 2011
Childhood physical abuse is associated with significantly elevated rates of functional somatic syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivities among women, according to new findings ...

Recommended for you

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

Scientists develop new supplement that can repair, rejuvenate muscles in older adults

July 18, 2017
Whey protein supplements aren't just for gym buffs according to new research from McMaster university. When taken on a regular basis, a combination of these and other ingredients in a ready-to-drink formula have been found ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Feb 09, 2012
One possible flaw in the study is that people who report psychosomatic (imagined physical illness) may also report imagined physical abuse at a higher rate. For instance depression typically causes both imagined illness and imagined mistreatment.

Question: Why did the researchers doubt the report or physical illness but accept, without further investigation, the report of mistreatment by parents???

The report is, therefore, fundamentally flawed ie the same standard of qualification of physical symptoms and physical abuse should be applied for a study of this kind to be considered scientifically valid...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.