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 physical abuse 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, dizziness, back pain 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 chronic conditions, bullying and school performance, 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 girls and boys, with approximately one third of the sample coming from each of the three age groups.
Key findings of the study included:
"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 intimate partner violence 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."
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