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Women's Health Education Program Scholars' Projects

Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Mediate the Transition From Acute to Persistent Pain Among Women Sexual Assault Survivors

WHEP Scholar Jenyth Sullivan

WHEP Scholar Jenyth Sullivan
Drexel University College of Medicine, Class of 2023

Approximately 100,000 women annually present for emergency care after sexual assault in the United States. In addition to the known negative mental health consequences, many survivors report clinically significant new or worsening pain after sexual assault. Severe physical injury is rare, and persistent pain can be present in body regions without physical trauma. To date, little is known about the etiology of persistent pain in this population.

Findings suggest posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), particularly alterations in arousal and reactivity, mediate thetransition from acute to persistent pain among women sexual assault survivors. PTSS may promote continued activation of the HPA axis and stress response, and exacerbate or maintain pain outcomes. Interventions targeting PTSS could prevent the transition of persistent or chronic pain among women experiencingsexual assault. Future research should integrate these neurobiological assessments of stress system activation to better understand thepotential pathways from PTSS to persistent pain.

Read Jenyth's full paper

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