Rape trauma linked to breathing problems

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Severe psychological trauma may cause adults to develop breathing problems, University of Otago researchers have found.

The team of researchers, led by respiratory specialist Bob Hancox and Waikato District Health Board sexual health specialist Jane Morgan, indicated victims of rape were more likely than other people to experience disruption to breathing patterns.

The researchers linked rape with late-onset asthma diagnosis in women and "dysfunctional breathing" in men and women.

Dysfunctional breathing, also known as hyperventilation syndrome, involves breathing too deeply or too rapidly.

Prof Hancox said the team set out to assess whether rape — a cause of extreme psychological trauma — was associated with dysfunctional breathing among participants in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study — the world-renowned Dunedin Study.

The study is a long-running investigation of health and behaviour in a group of 1037 people born in Dunedin in 1972 or 1973.

"The findings indicate that dysfunctional breathing may be a consequence of severe psychological trauma and are consistent with case reports of sexual abuse in patients with other patterns of breathing difficulty," Prof Hancox said.

"Health professionals should recognise the possibility of prior traumatic experiences triggering either dysfunctional breathing or late-onset asthma and consider whether psychological counselling or other forms of therapy would help their patients," he said.

Previous studies had found a history of adverse events, including sexual trauma, were associated with self-reported asthma, but links with other respiratory problems had not been examined.

Nearly 20% of women and 4% of men in the Dunedin Study reported having been raped.

Both male and female victims of rape were more likely to have dysfunctional breathing at 38 years of age than other participants in the study.

Rape was also associated with self-reported diagnoses of asthma and symptoms of wheeze among women, but not men.

The researchers focused on rape because it is a particularly traumatic experience that could be clearly defined.

"We need to investigate whether other forms of sexual, physical and psychological trauma are also associated with breathing pattern disorders."

The research was recently published in the European Respiratory Journal.


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