Head Trauma in a Community-Based Sample of Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: Prevalence, Mechanisms of Injury and Symptom Presentation

Meyer, J.E., Jammula, V., & Arnett, P.A. (2021).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 20. https://doi.org/10.1177/08862605211016362
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Expanded Abstract: 

The most recent national prevalence study on gender violence has estimated that approximately 40% of women will be victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime (Black et al., 2011). Considering only cases of physical violence, the numbers remain high, with approximately one-fourth (Breiding et al., 2014) to one-third (Thompson et al., 2006) of women in the U. S. estimated to be victims of physical violence by an intimate or ex-intimate partner in their lifetime. Research evaluating common mechanisms of injury in IPV victims shows that injuries are frequently incurred from punching, violent shaking, pushing, and strangulation, and up to 80% of IPV victims report sustaining injuries to their heads, necks, or faces (Sheridan & Nash, 2007). Across mechanism of injury, injuries to the head, neck, and face are so prevalent in IPV victims that it has been suggested that physicians use them as markers for potential IPV victimization (Wu et al., 2010). Given the mechanisms and locations of injury, it follows that victims of physical IPV are likely at high risk for sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and hypoxic brain injuries (HBI).

This study explored the prevalence of subconcussive head trauma, traumatic brain injury (TBI), potential hypoxic events, and hypoxic brain injury (HBI) in victims of physical intimate partner violence (IPV). The study also aimed to characterize the injury presentation and mechanisms of injury in this population.

A group of 47 female participants with a history of at least one relationship that included physical violence completed a structured interview assessing for subconcussive hits, TBI, and HBI. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 55 and had an average of 15.3 years of education. Forty-four participants completed the structured interview in person and three participants completed the interview over the phone.

The study found that the majority of participants reported sustaining at least one impact to the head and approximately half of the participants sustained at least one impact that resulted in a mild TBI. Approximately half of the participants experienced at least one incident of having difficulty breathing due to a violent act from their partner, and approximately one-third of participants reported symptoms consistent with mild HBI.

The most common mechanisms of injury were being hit with a closed fist and being strangled.

Study authors concluded that the high levels of head trauma observed in the study participants highlight the need for clinical and community providers to screen victims of physical IPV for head trauma. The unique characteristics of this population (female sex, high frequency of injuries, and presence of HBIs) indicate that research evaluating the cognitive effects of injuries in this population is needed.

(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above)

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