Earlier this week a Duke university study concluded that one in four HIV patients were sexually abused as children. Over 600 patients, aged 20-71, were involved in the two-year long study.
The majority of the patients in the study, titled the Coping with HIV/AIDS in the Southeast (Chase), had at one point in their lifetimes been victims of sexual or physical abuse. In addition, fifty percent of the patients were found to have suffered three of more traumatic life experiences, such as sexual or physical abuse, and also domestic violence, the loss of a child, or a loved one’s suicide attempt or completion.
These traumatic experiences, particularly ones in childhood, were also linked to worse health overall among the patients.
By checking and following up on the patients intermittently for a two year period, researchers were able to find links between traumatic experiences, HIV-related behaviors and poorer health conditions.
More traumatic experiences were also linked to patients engaging in unprotected sex, missing proper, antiretroviral medications, trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations. Patients who had been victims of trauma were much more likely to have their health decline or to pass away during the two-year period.
“For whatever outcome we looked at, psychological trauma ended up being a predictor of worse medical outcomes and poorer health-related behaviors,” said lead author Brian Pence, a Duke associate professor of community and family medicine and global health.
Pence went on to say these findings stress the significance of judging a patient’s trauma history when being given HIV care. The results, Pence hopes, can help HIV programs be structured into an environment that advocates safer sex practices, stricter adherence to medicine and better health results for patients receiving aid.
The most surprising part of the study was that the effects of past trauma on recent behavior and health was unable to be explained by normal factors.
“We would expect people with a history of exposure to trauma to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or other mental health concerns, like drug abuse or poor coping skills, and that these things in turn would more fully explain why they had lower adherence to their medications and worse health,” Pence said.
“But, we found that trauma history was still associated with bad health outcomes independent of mental health status, drug use or coping styles. So we have more to learn about exactly how past traumatic experiences exert influence on behaviors and health outcomes years down the road.”
The study is set to appear in the April 1 edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (which can be found online here), with a supplementary editorial. The National Institute of Mental Health helped support the study.