Sexual Abuse predicts Functional Somatic Symptoms: An Adolescent Population Study
The main aim of this study was to investigate the effect of childhood sexual abuse on medically not well explained or functional somatic symptoms (FSSs) in adolescents. We hypothesized that sexual abuse predicts higher levels of FSSs and that anxiety and depression contribute to this relationship. In addition, we hypothesized that more severe abuse is associated with higher levels of FSSs and that sexual abuse is related to gastrointestinal FSSs in particular. This study was part of the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS): a general population cohort which started in 2001 (N = 2,230; 50.8% girls, mean age 11.1 years). The current study uses data of 1,680 participants over four assessment waves (75% of baseline, mean duration of follow-up: 8 years). FSSs were measured by the Somatic Complaints subscale of the Youth Self-Report at all waves. Sexual abuse before the age of sixteen was assessed retrospectively with a questionnaire at T4. To test the hypotheses linear mixed models were used adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic status, anxiety and depression. Sexual abuse predicted higher levels of FSSs after adjustment for age sex and socioeconomic status (B = .06) and after additional adjustment for anxiety and depression (B = .03). While sexual abuse involving physical contact significantly predicted the level of FSSs (assault; B = .08, rape; B = .05), non-contact sexual abuse was not significantly associated with FSSs (B = .04). Sexual abuse was not a stronger predictor of gastrointestinal FSSs (B = .06) than of all FSSs. Further research is needed to clarify possible mechanisms underlying relationship between sexual abuse and FSSs.