Women veterans who experience traumatic brain injury from intimate partner violence are more likely to experience psychosocial health risks in the future

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained during military service has gained significant attention from researchers, clinicians, and media outlets. Because the number of women who enlist and serve in the military has increased in recent years, some research studies have specifically focused on TBI in female veterans. Yet very little research has been devoted to the physical and mental health consequences women veterans experience when they sustain TBI in non-military contexts. Women veterans are 1.6 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than their peers in the general population, and they are at the highest risk immediately after leaving the military. Much like TBI acquired in combat operations, TBI caused by intimate partner violence can cause significant emotional trauma and other long-term negative health outcomes.

A research team from Boston recently investigated the health concerns of women veterans, who are underrepresented in medical research. They collected hospital data from 33 women veterans who sustained TBI as a result of intimate partner violence. Eighteen months later, the participants took a web-based survey that examined the longer-term psychiatric and physical health outcomes associated with intimate partner violence, finding that:

  • About one-third of the participants reported persistent TBI symptoms—such as memory problems, dizziness, sleep problems, and headaches—within a week of injury.
  • Those who had early persistent symptoms were significantly more likely to experience severe symptoms of depression, insomnia, and physical health problems eighteen months later.
  • Women with persistent TBI symptoms were more likely to experience increased physical and psychological intimate partner violence in the eighteen months following the initial injury.

Intimate partner violence is a complex and pervasive problem that impacts millions of women in the United States each year. Certain populations, such as women veterans, are at significantly higher risk of experiencing TBI as a result of intimate partner violence, indicating a clinical need for specialized programs aimed to treat the mental and physical health consequences associated with these injuries. To prevent long-term adverse outcomes, clinicians are further advised to monitor women veterans for signs of persistent TBI symptoms in the weeks and months following an episode of intimate partner violence.

Iverson KM, Dardis CM, Grillo AR, et al. Associations between traumatic brain injury from intimate partner violence and future psychosocial health risks in women. Comprehensive Psychiatry. (2019).

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