Bottom Line: A history of intimate partner violence or sexual assault and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms are common among midlife and older women and are associated with women’s experience of menopause.
Why The Research Is Interesting: Violence against women is a public health problem. The general health and functioning of midlife and older women can be affected by common symptoms related to menopause and aging, including trouble sleeping, vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes, and vaginal symptoms including dryness, irritation and pain during sex. How exposure to trauma and PTSD symptoms might be linked to the development and exacerbation of these common symptoms throughout the menopause transition is unclear.
Who and When: Multiethnic group of about 2,000 women between 40 and 80 in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system; data analysis conducted from late 2008 to early 2012
What (Measures and Outcomes): Lifetime physical or emotional intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual assault, and current PTSD symptoms assessed through questionnaires (exposures); difficulty sleeping, vasomotor symptoms and vaginal symptoms assessed through questionnaires (outcomes)
How (Study Design): This was an observational study. Researchers weren’t intervening for purposes of the study and they cannot control natural differences that could explain the study findings.
Authors: Carolyn J. Gibson, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System, San Francisco, California, and coauthors
Results: About 1 in 5 women experienced IPV or sexual assault and nearly 1 in 4 had PTSD symptoms. A history of emotional IPV and PTSD symptoms were associated with difficulty sleeping, vasomotor symptoms and vaginal symptoms; a history of physical IPV was associated with night sweats; and sexual assault was associated with vaginal symptoms.
Study Limitations: Findings should be interpreted in the context of limitations of the data, including that they don’t allow for determinations to made about trends over time, the duration of menopause symptoms and traumatic exposures, or other associations between variables.
Related Material: The invited commentary, “Association of Interpersonal Violence with Women’s Health,” by Rebecca C. Thurston, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is available on the For The Media website.
To Learn More: The full study is available on the For The Media website.