Today, most people are aware that sexual abuse experienced recently or years ago can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. But there is growing evidence that sexual abuse including molestation and/or rape can also cause a large range of medical problems.
Since it is estimated that one in six men and one in four women were sexually assaulted before they were eighteen, this is a significant population who may have physical as well as mental health issues stemming from sexual abuse. It has been shown that traumatic experience including sexual abuse causes unstable levels of cortisol, the major stress hormone. The elevated levels of cortisol can in turn lead to inflammation which is a major factor in many illnesses. The inflammation can be a contributing factor to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and arthritis.
Since survivors of sexual abuse have higher than average rates of tobacco use, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual behavior, the side effects of those habits can directly affect their physical health. Other physical healths often seen with sexual abuse survivors include: chronic daily headaches, obesity, eating disorders. gastrointestinal disorders, fibromyalgia and chronic pelvic pain.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, be sure and talk honestly and completely to your medical doctor. This will help your physician to be aware at the time of diagnosis and in preventative care planning. This will also be of value for women having a Pap smear or a man having a prostate exam.
A person who has been sexually abused needs to make it a real goal to take care of him or herself. Healthy habits including getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a healthy diet and meditating can help reduce your stress and cortisol production thus reducing your risk for health problems. Hypnotherapy is often used in building these healthy lifestyle habits.
If you have not dealt with your sexual abuse history, seek professional help from someone trained in sexual abuse treatment. This may be a counselor, psychologist or certified sex therapist. There are sexual abuse survivors' groups and online help. These include: the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (www.ascaSupport.org) and Survivors of Incest Anonymous (www.siawso.org). You may also learn new strategies for living with a sexual abuse history with such recovery books as The Sexual Healing Journey:A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, The Courage to Heal and Victims No Longer.
If you have not dealt with your sexual abuse history, seek professional help from someone trained in sexual abuse treatment. This may be a counselor, psychologist or certified sex therapist. As a hypnotherapist, I work with sexual abuse survivors as an adjunct therapy on referral from the person's primary therapist when that therapist believes hypnotherapy could be a valuable tool. There is help available. Don't let a history of sexual abuse affect your mental, emotional or physical health. Heal your past and Be Well.