The relationship of childhood physical and sexual abuse to adult illness behavior

J Psychosom Res. 1996 Mar;40(3):329-36. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(95)00580-3.


A sample of 275 undergraduate subjects reported (i) their history of sexual and physical abuse in childhood and (ii) their health care utilization, somatization, and hypochondriasis as an adult. Physical and sexual abuse were recalled by largely separate groups, physical abuse predominating in males and sexual abuse in females. Both types of abuse were followed by a greater number of hospital admissions and surgical procedures in adulthood. Although sexual, and especially physical, abuse were associated with recall of emotionally disturbed parenting, this could not explain their influence on health care utilization because this was unrelated to parenting. Similarly, although abuse was followed by greater somatization and hypochondriasis, these also were unrelated to health care utilization. Physical and sexual abuse in childhood are risk factors, independent of their association with poor parenting, in the development of separate aspects of adult illness behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse
  • Humans
  • Hypochondriasis / diagnosis
  • Hypochondriasis / psychology
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Personality Development*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Role
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Students / psychology