Altered pain perception and psychosocial features among women with gastrointestinal disorders and history of abuse: a preliminary model

Am J Med. 1994 Aug;97(2):108-18. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(94)90020-5.


Objectives: To evaluate the relationships between sexual/physical abuse, pain perception, environmental events, coping strategies, and psychiatric morbidity in a sample of female patients with painful gastrointestinal disorders.

Patients: Fifty paid volunteers from a tertiary care center including 13 patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), 26 with noncardiac chest pain (NCCP), and 11 with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Measurements: (1) Sexual and physical abuse interview questions; (2) Structured psychiatric interview; (3) Self-report questionnaires: demographics, clinical pain measurement, Millon Behavioral Health Inventory, Hassles and Uplifts Scales, Sickness Impact Profile, Life Experiences Survey, Pain Beliefs and Perceptions Inventory, and Coping Strategies Questionnaire; (4) Pain Perception and Sensory Decision Theory tasks.

Results: Fifty-six percent of the sample reported a history of sexual/physical abuse. Abuse was significantly more prevalent among patients with GERD (92%) and IBS (82%) compared with those with NCCP (27%). Abused patients, relative to nonabused patients, had significantly lower pain threshold levels in response to finger pressure stimuli and significantly lower cognitive standards for judging stimuli as noxious. Abused patients reported significantly higher levels of functional disability and a significantly greater number of psychiatric disorders, minor daily hassles, and pain syndromes unrelated to gastrointestinal disorders. In addition, abused patients more frequently blamed themselves for their pain and reported significantly greater use of maladaptive pain coping strategies than nonabused patients.

Conclusion: These data suggest that the relationships between abuse, disability, multiple pain syndromes, and health care seeking behavior are mediated by abnormal pain perception, psychiatric disorders, disruption of physical function, and environmental stressors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / complications
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pain Threshold / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Prevalence
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Surveys and Questionnaires