Abuse is a major source of trauma to women, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) results from exposure to extreme trauma. To describe the relationship between symptoms of PTSD and severity of abuse, an ethnically stratified cohort of 131 abused women in a primary care setting was interviewed. Symptoms of PTSD, both intrusion (i.e., trouble falling asleep, strong waves of feelings about the abuse) and avoidance (i.e., trying not to think or talk about the abuse, staying away from reminders of the abuse), were significantly (p < 0.01) correlated to severity of abuse, regardless of ethnicity. When asked about childhood physical or sexual abuse, women reporting physical abuse had significantly (p < 0.05) higher intrusion scores, whereas those reporting sexual abuse had significantly (p < 0.004) higher avoidance scores. Sixty-five percent of the women reported dreams, flashbacks, or terror attacks and had significantly (p < 0.001) higher mean results on both intrusion and avoidance. The need to offer abused women information about the connection between severity of abuse and symptoms of PTSD is discussed. We recommend that clinicians ask all abused women about dreams, flashbacks, or terror attacks to assess for further symptoms of PTSD.
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