Somatic Symptoms

Child sexual abuse affects the health of child victims. Explanations for this include:
  1. Stress, especially chronic stress such as that experienced by children repeatedly abused, causes a release of stress-related hormones into the body. These hormones have a negative impact on the immune system and place the child at risk of physical illness. 
  2. Emotions are closely tied to the child's health. The fear and anxiety of the sexual abuse victim causes symptoms of  illness as the child's anxiety is expressed physically. Because sexual abuse is physical violation, the child has fears around bodily functioning. This may be related to the PTSD symptom of hyperarousal. 
  3. Dissociation results in a lack of body awareness. Children may be unable to distinguish between emotions and physical sensations.  

Examples of somatic symptoms in child sexual abuse victims:

  • Stomach pain
  • Digestive complaints
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Bladder problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Other bodily pain not explained by medical diagnosis, such as back or leg pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Encopresis (inability to control bowels) 
  • General fatigue 


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