Doc Says Sexual Abuse Leads to Chronic Illness

I was reading another article where a physician claims that sexual abuse can lead to chronic illness, Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, IBS, and cancer.  Dr. Larry Bergstrom, MD, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale Arizona, says that the emotional stress of sexual abuse can have physical effects on the victims that can lead to these health problems.  Dr. Bergstrom claims:

“I’ve seen in my referral practice that about 75 percent of my patients who suffer from fibromyalgia have sexual abuse in their past.  It’s common for victims of sexual abuse to develop problems trusting people in their lives, so they develop perfectionist personalities, which drive them to be compulsive ‘people pleasers’ and make them believe they have to do everything themselves, otherwise it won’t get done right.”

These personality traits take their toll on the patients, because they can’t do it all, and their compulsions drive extreme amounts of stress into their lives. That stress manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, from simple pain to IBS to even cancer.

Abuse victims are not the only ones who are people pleasers, have Type A personalities, and feel that they have to do everything themselves if they want something done right. In my own opinion, I feel that abuse could cause physical problems because abuse victims often keep what has happened to them bottled up inside and this can’t be good physically. I don’t think that just because someone has Fibromyalgia or another chronic illness that means they were abused. There are many things in life that can lead to physical illnesses developing – the effects of abuse just being one of them.

Any type of chronic illness is complex and what causes them to affect some people versus others will always be a mystery.  Trauma, whether physical or emotional, is all hard on the body.  What are your thoughts?  Do you think the effects of abuse can cause physical illness later in life? 


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  1. The Let Go…Let Peace Come In Foundation is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post a childhood photo and caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website We need to “show” the world that we will no longer be silenced and that there are enough of us to make a difference. By uniting survivors from across the globe we can help provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please visit our site for more details on how you can send us your submissions.

    Thank you for everything you do!

    Gretchen Paules
    Administrative Director
    Let Go…Let Peace Come In Foundation
    111 Presidential Blvd., Suite 212
    Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

  2. Clay McCord MD says:

    One New England Journal article suggested the incidence of sexual abuse in fibromyaliga may approach 50% but that’s likely a bit high. In my recent book, The Truth About Fibromyalgia, I suggest that the incidence of abuse may be higher, the younger the age of onset. Fibro is a neurological disorder in which the pain volume is turned too high. This likely occurs because disrupted sleep patterns prevent the limbic system from properly recharging, preventing proper regulation of pain and sympathetic nervous activity. There can be many triggers, including psychological trauma, of course, that sets off these disrupted sleep paterns. Migraine, irritable bowel, chronic bladder and pelvic pains, chronic fatigue can also occur

  3. Trauma, lost of trust to other people and other symptoms really occurs and yes physical illness is also possible in the later time.

  4. This is a load of rubbish at times when I look at research it’s like docs don’t have a clue what causes illness so they start making stuff up about o billy had a poor life he was abused now he has this illness.

  5. I feel sorry for you Adam. I strongly beleive that abuse physical, mentally, or sexual can cause illmess. I am no doctor but I have seen what it has done to my
    health. Not only me but my sister. Abuse is something that can destroy your mind, soul and body. Unless you have been there don’t judge. If you have been there and it hasn’t effected you. Be thankful and please be helpful. There are alot of us that would love to know a way to over come this.

  6. Thanks for all the info concerning fibro and chronic fatigue. I am searching to get answers.

  7. I believe fully that childhood trauma can sneak back up on you later in life. Life doesn’t get easier as we grow up, it gets harder and we learn how to stuff and deny self care even more than as children. However, I agree that not everyone with Fibro has abuse in their past. I think that the reason this is being so widely publicized as a disorder that we survivors deal with is because there’s so much child abuse and so many survivors. When one in 3 women is a survivor by the age of 18 then it stands to reason abuse would be in the forefront of the average mind and the scientific mind. Still, we should not push aside those who do not have these experiences or claim that they are not in as much pain. Pain is pain, yours and mine are equal but sometimes the news and scientific community will put a shadow on one and put in the limelight the other.

    I may be a survivor while others with Fibro and or Lupus are not. As we know Fibro and Lupus do not discriminate. Such illnesses have the ability to take us down equally and mercilessly with no regard for our past.

    With peace and hope for today,
    Faith-Magdalene Austin

  8. jane freeman says:

    I believe there are significant links between sexual abuse and physical illness. Not just in the instance of the victims but also in the abusers. As a victim I suffer from severe osteoarthritis 21 years after the fact. And many abusers that I know of suffer from physical illness including M.S and brain tumours. I pose the question, how can these illnesses be treated in a way that recognises that link?

  9. Aaaaahhhhh…The old correlation vs. causation problem. With abuse being so common, one has to wonder if this is not yet another example. While it is possible that such abusive situations could end up being a minor risk factor, the existence of so many ME/CFS and FM patients who have not experienced abuse should also say something about the overall idea of abuse being a “cause” of these illnesses. These “researchers” are not looking at the simple correlation vs. causation issue and have not been able to show any causative action for abuse having been an issue in causing illness; especially in those who have not been abused in any way and they are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to make this into an issue while there is no evidence–it’s just a nice hypothesis without an evidentiary basis and is not logical in any sense of the word.
    On the one hand we have researchers who are hypothesizing a “wind up” phenomenon from stress that is somehow “causing” the hyperalgesic, excitotoxic pain situation and on the other hand we have researchers looking at ischemic processes in the brain and how they cause hyperalgesia (think in terms of “hyper-pain” in which normal sensory phenomenon such as light becomes painful; very similar to what happens in encephalitis and meningitis) and excitotoxicity. Excitotoxicity is the new frontier in brain science and the effects of glutamate in the brain are being studied regarding many different types of brain injury; this includes ME/CFS and FMS (this is why they are using GABA agonists such as neurontin; GABA is the major inhibitory system to glutamate/NMDA, along with opiates, cannabinoids, etc.; it may very well be that different folks have differing needs for glutamate antagonists, i.e., some have endorphin deficiency while others need GABA agonists.)
    Again, correlation is not causality. An association with potential predisposing factors does not mean that those predisposing factors CAUSED the illness. Most of the studies alleging a preponderance of mental health issues seem to be highly flawed (very small studies, recruiting study participants at mental health clinics, using flawed case definitions that over-represent MH caused fatigue in studies, etc.) and do not explain the large numbers of people with no mental health issues (such as myself) who became ill with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia. A little known fact is that endurance athletes, as I was formerly, are highly prone to these illnesses and the worst prognoses are with those who try to exercise the most after becoming ill. This is most likely to do with the diastolic cardiomyopathy and reduced blood flow to the brain and extremities and in essence, as one tries to exercise more, the worse the blood flow issues become and the worse the ischemic processes in the brain become; resulting in excitotoxicity and hyperalgesia (including the micro-seizure which is at the heart of the majority of the cognitive dysfunction, alpha/delta wave sleep anomaly, attention and focus deficits, dysfunctional startle reflex, etc.) In addition, there are many studies which have found the rates of MH illness for fibro patients before becoming ill is the same as the general population (much better done studies I might add.)

    I would go with the researchers who are doing actual science and not those who are just spouting hypothetical scenarios as fact and using statistical manipulation to support their ideas.

  10. LAZY: Physicians who opt to blame a patient on sometimes the thinnest of excuses, to avoid spending money on research, on legitimate treatment, even on palliative treatment, in the hopes of a suicide from depression due to living in agony from a disease no one will acknowledge is real, or which has suddenly been re-categorized as not being real (e.g., “Sexual abuse causes cancer”). & for which no treatment (including palliative) is available because the disease is “not real.” Therefore, everyone who dies (1) from suicide from living in agony, or (2) becomes an alcoholic to ease the pain & dies from alcoholism – with their reputation ruined, or (3) becomes addicted to illicit drugs or legal drugs obtained illicitly & dies of a possibly suicidal overdose with their reputation ruined, is one less person that our new Socialized Medicine System doesn’t have to worry about treating.
    Of course, even diseases that affect normal sized people are, if contracted by certain classes of people, suddenly the fault of a “bad habit.” Because a smoker smoked, or a smoker used to smoke & quit but the damage was done, or an obese person didn’t lose weight, or even an obese person did lose weight or it wasn’t enough or it was too much so they ruined their body again or because the damage was already done. or a person now or at one time abused drugs/alcohol/chemicals like glue, or even that a person lived in an area where there was pollution, worked in a mine, was exposed to asbestos &, Heaven forbid, knew it (yeah, we knew it – asbestos is fire proof & was so widely used that any kid in the boomer era went to schools full of it, lived in homes where it was wrapped around the hot water pipes, etc.) & didn’t move away (“Hi, Mom, I’m moving away from home because there’s asbestos & in the future they’re going to blame me if I get cancer”), or they lived near a nuclear facility, a toxic waste dump, or they didn’t eat right due to poverty & were malnourished….
    In other words, doctors can literally stretch this to blame people for where they grew up, chose to live, chose to work (dry cleaners, anyone?)…
    Here’s my story – you can see how much “blame the victim” you could get our of this one:
    I grew up in an area that depended on heavy industry & had no real pollution control until I was an adult. It wouldn’t have been a miracle if someone had walked across the “water” in the river full of dead fish & industrial waste at the bottom of the hill; the factories had been dumping in that river, all up & down it, unchecked for decades. it finally recovered some in the late 70s, when someone saw a real live fish. I’m kind of surprised that some of the kids who tried to swim in it didn’t end up superheroes or supervillains from the exposure.
    My family (4 other members) were 2 – 3 pack a day smokers complete with friends who smoked just as much, as did the families of most of my friends, & many of them started as early as 4 years old (yeah, no exaggeration). I went to nursing school in a community college that allowed smoking in all areas & by the time 4 pm classes started, the cloud of smoke that started on the 12 ft high ceiling had migrated to where it was even with my hips sitting in the desk, & it was nearly impossible to see the blackboards. Evening classes were held in rooms so full of smoke from floor to ceiling that I wondered how people breathed in them (I stayed late to work in the nursing practice lab & noticed on my way out). Nurses & doctors often smoked in hospital rooms with patients & their families, while discussing what to do for things like blocked carotids, heart disease, emphysema…it’s not like they didn’t know smoking made those things worse. It’s like a huge case of denial.
    Smokers were the ones most likely to lambaste fat people, especially if we didn’t smoke – because, coughing & all, smokers were, if fat, not as fat as they’d be if they quit. When I moved to be with my husband at his duty station, I had a job at one of the first employers to have a fitness center on the job. They called me a liar when I said I wasn’t a smoker, because I had the lung damage, on pulmonary function tests, of a 2 pack per day smoker. I actually was being kicked out of the program for lying when my colleagues came by & told them that I had never smoked in their presence. I still had to bring letters from people willing to vouch for knowing me, saying that they had never seen me smoke. Imagine being stuck with permanent lung damage & being called a liar when it wasn’t your fault! My mother, who smoked 3 packs a day for around 30 years, had better lung function tests when she died than I had just a year before when I stopped by the “respiratory therapy week” booth for a free PFT & it was just as bad. I guess the 2nd hand smoke the smokers are exposed to doesn’t damage their lungs?
    I found something out about the area where I’d grown up, decades later. The article in the newspaper claimed that documents released under the Freedom of Information Act said that the government had released “slightly elevated levels of radiation over a period of several decades to monitor the effect of elevated background radiation that would be present after a nuclear attack, to see how their health fared,” which is, 75% of people in that area over the age of 62 have cancer & I know they weren’t all sexually abused! Plus, what nitwit thought that anyone but rich people & politicians would survive a nuclear attack? I know a lot of people actually built bomb shelters & stocked them, but the shelters were usually stocked for only 6 – 12 months. Anyone emerging after that time would still have been exposed to very high nuclear radiation. Anything they tried to grow, if it grew, would have had contaminants in it & would have worsened the radiation load. They likely wouldn’t have survived easily unless they could have figured out which areas were & were not hit by nukes to see if they could start a new life there & survive. And once they had things settled, more or less, chances are the radiation levels would’ve come down low enough that the 2 legged cockroaches & rats (the politicians & the rich people) would’ve come out, seized everything by claiming they were the government, & taxed everyone out of existence. So, the point of all this testing, done over multiple sites all over America, would have been what? To me, finding a way to reduce the world’s population to a “manageable” level (manageable apparently being what a given dictator can micromanage & throw into fear without worrying about a revolution). That’s it. The risk of nuclear attack was present, but both countries were really afraid of nuclear war. Putting increased background radiation in the air, especially in an area with heavy industrial pollution, helped companies & labor unions avoid paying much in the way of retirement funds. Was that the real end game? I wouldn’t be surprised, would you?
    Speaking of radiation, my first radium needle (cervical cancer) treatment patient freaked & we had no lead shields, & it took the doctor over an hour to get them out – I couldn’t leave because she’d have injured herself & it would’ve been my fault. That scenario repeated – at least with lead shields this time – 20 yr later. Because I didn’t work in a radiology dept. & I was only “allowed” to be in the room 5 min. every hour, I got no badge to measure exposure – but the folks who removed the needles said with 2 exposures like that, 1 of which was without shielding, I probably had my lifetime max exposure & possibly more than that.
    I’d have to vote for more. You see, I was in the UK when when Chernobyl blew up in the Soviet Union & this huge radioactive cloud hung over Europe. Of course, I know the Russians had it a lot worse than I did. It’s more by way of “one more thing.”
    AND…Mad Cow Disease started out around the time Chernobyl melted down. We ate British beef – everyone there did until we found out – so now, since the disease can show up anytime from 5 – 50 years after exposure & can only be definitively diagnosed on autopsy (although they’re looking for something a little better in the way of prion testing), it’s possible I could end up with it, although I’m pretty sure I’ll die of something else (like, eventually under socialized medicine, since what I have is expensive, no treatment) way before Mad Cow shows up or is cleared as a concern in my life. It really is pretty low likelihood that I have it, & like I said, I’m not really worried about it. It’s just “one more thing.”
    So, why the list?
    I think every one of us has some sort of list we could find, of things we were exposed to that we either thought were Good Things (asbestos) that are now Bad Things, or chemicals that no one knew could leak that far away from their source, hey, even neat freaks, while they might not have to worry about germs & falling over clutter, could be exposed to so many cleaning chemicals that the dirt actually might look like a better option (at least to some of us who need an excuse for cultivating dust bunnies).
    And every thing like that to which we were exposed, accidentally or on purpose, is one more thing LAZY DOCTORS can use to blame us for what we have. And one more way socialized medicine saves money – just ask the folks over in Europe.

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