Physiologic changes associated with violence and abuse exposure: an examination of related medical conditions

Trauma Violence Abuse. 2012 Jan;13(1):41-56. doi: 10.1177/1524838011426152. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


Although the extant evidence is replete with data supporting linkages between exposure to violence or abuse and the subsequent development of medical illnesses, the underlying mechanisms of these relationships are poorly defined and understood. Physiologic changes occurring in violence- or abuse-exposed individuals point to potentially common biological pathways connecting traumatic exposures with medical outcomes. Herein, the evidence describing the long-term physiologic changes in abuse- and violence-exposed populations and associated medical illnesses are reviewed. Current data support that (a) specific neurobiochemical changes are associated with exposure to violence and abuse; (b) several biological pathways have the potential to lead to the development of future illness; and (c) common physiologic mechanisms may moderate the severity, phenomenology, or clinical course of medical illnesses in individuals with histories of exposure to violence or abuse. Importantly, additional work is needed to advance our emerging understanding of the biological mechanisms connecting exposure to violence and abuse and negative health outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Spouse Abuse
  • Violence*


  • Biomarkers
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone