Skip main navigation

Risk groups, signs & symptoms

Video interview with Dr Davina Kaur Patel, a medical doctor and field practitioner from UK.
First you should know about risk groups. So there are certain groups that are at more risk of experiencing domestic violence such as pregnant women. There is a 30% increased risk of domestic violence in pregnant women. Other groups include people with mental health conditions, people who are drug dependent or alcohol dependent. And of course, the single most important group that you need to think about domestic violence are people who have experienced domestic violence before. And that cannot be forgotten. So, it’s important to know that domestic violence doesn’t present with any one, two or three specific symptoms or signs that are particularly indicative of domestic violence.
There are a broad range of signs and symptoms that can point towards a case of domestic violence. Signs and symptoms can be varied. They can include things such as a change in the mental health situations. So increased depressive symptoms for example, unexplained symptoms, -where a patient might have pains or elements of aches that cannot be explained by any other cause. One might also be suspicious of domestic violence where a patient is always coming to the appointments with an escort, or with their partner. You might think about domestic violence where a patient becomes more withdrawn or quiet within their consultation.
Other signs might include for example, where a patient doesn’t show up to the important hospital or clinic appointments, -and they can include many, many other signs and symptoms.

Who are the patients at risk of domestic violence, and what are the signs and symptoms that we should look for?

Spend a few minutes watching this interview with Dr Davina Kaur Patel, a medical doctor and field practitioner from the UK, before moving onto the text below.

As Dr Davina Kaur Patel explained, there is wide variety clinical conditions associated with intimate partner violence. Below is a list of the most common presentations:

  • Symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sleep disorders
  • Suicidality or self-harm
  • Alcohol and other substance use
  • Unexplained chronic gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Unexplained genitourinary symptoms, including frequent bladder or kidney infections or other
  • Unexplained reproductive symptoms, including pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction
  • Adverse reproductive outcomes, including multiple unintended pregnancies and/or terminations, delayed pregnancy care, adverse birth outcomes
  • Repeated vaginal bleeding and sexually transmitted infections
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Traumatic injury, particularly if repeated and with vague or implausible explanations
  • Problems with the central nervous system – headaches, cognitive problems, and hearing loss
  • Repeated health consultations with no clear diagnosis
  • Intrusive partner or husband in consultations

Source: World Health Organization 2013. Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women: WHO clinical and policy guidelines, p. 19

The list above clearly demonstrates that domestic violence results in a large amount of physical and mental health problems. Therefore, healthcare workers should always keep this diagnosis at the back of their minds, especially when there are unexplained symptoms, or when you sense there maybe a part of the medical history which seems “hidden”.

Reflection point

The World Health Organization does not recommend screening (asking every patient) for domestic violence, but case finding instead.
  1. What are pros and cons for this recommendation?
  2. If you don’t perform screening, then how do you conduct case finding – whom should you ask?
  3. Why should health professionals be aware of patient groups who are at risk for domestic violence?

Please use the general discussion area below to discuss your reflections. Afterwards, continue on to the next step.

This article is from the free online

Addressing Violence Through Patient Care

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now