Media Releases

U of T researchers find link between childhood physical abuse and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia in women

May 16, 2011

TORONTO, ON – Child­hood phys­i­cal abuse is asso­ci­at­ed with sig­nif­i­cant­ly ele­vat­ed rates of func­tion­al somat­ic syn­dromes such as chron­ic fatigue syn­drome, fibromyal­gia and mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties among women, accord­ing to new find­ings by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers. The research will be pub­lished in this month’s issue of the Jour­nal of Aggres­sion, Mal­treat­ment & Trau­ma.

“Women who report­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused as chil­dren have twice the odds of chron­ic fatigue syn­drome and mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties, and 65 per cent high­er odds of fibromyal­gia” says lead inves­ti­ga­tor Pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son, who holds the San­dra Rot­man Chair at U of T’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work and Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine. “These find­ings per­sist­ed even after con­trol­ling for poten­tial­ly con­found­ing fac­tors such as oth­er adverse child­hood expe­ri­ences, age, race, men­tal health and adult socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus.”

The study exam­ined sta­tis­tics from a region­al sub­sam­ple of the 2005 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey involv­ing 7,342 women, 10 per cent of whom report­ed being phys­i­cal­ly abused as chil­dren.  A minor­i­ty of women report­ed they had been diag­nosed by a health pro­fes­sion­al with chron­ic fatigue syn­drome (1.3%), fibromyal­gia (2.5%), or mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties (2.7%).

Co-author Joanne Sul­man, from the Depart­ment of Social Work at Mount Sinai, says the research not only points to an asso­ci­a­tion between child­hood phys­i­cal abuse and these dis­or­ders, but also explores the con­tri­bu­tion of con­found­ing psy­choso­cial fac­tors such as oth­er child­hood adver­si­ties, adult health behav­iours and men­tal health.

“But per­haps the most inter­est­ing aspects of the research,” says Sul­man, “are the ques­tions it rais­es, such as the mech­a­nisms that link phys­i­cal abuse to chron­ic fatigue syn­drome, fibromyal­gia and mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties.”



For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Chair
Fac­ul­ties of Social Work, Med­i­cine & Nurs­ing

Joanne Sul­man
Research and Group Work Con­sul­tant
Depart­ment of Social Work
Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal
416–586-4800 x5201

Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Media Rela­tions
Michael Kennedy