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Research From Africa Shows Abused Women Risk Losing Pregnancy

A new study has found that women who are abused by their partners are 50 percent more likely to lose one or more pregnancies. The findings were from a study of women in the African nation of Cameroon.

Investigators led by Amina Alio of the Department of Community and Family Health at the University of South Florida in Tampa analyzed data from the Cameroon Demographic Health Survey that asked 2,500 women whether they had been subjected to violence.

Alio says researchers found about half the women had experienced some sort of violence during pregnancy.

"Women that were exposed to spousal violence were 50 percent more likely to experience both single and a repeated loss of pregnancy," said Amina Alio. "And when I say loss of pregnancy, I mean either a miscarriage or a stillbirth. So that means that about a third of miscarriages and stillbirths occurred among victims of violence."

Alio says investigators asked women about abuse in three areas - physical abuse, such as pushing, hitting, slapping and kicking; sexual violence; and emotional violence, including verbal threats and public humiliation against the women and members of their families.

Researchers found that all three types of abuse were associated with stillbirths and miscarriages and women who suffered more than one type of abuse were at highest risk of losing more than one pregnancy.

Alio says that a surprising finding was that the greatest risk factor for miscarriage was emotional abuse.

"So that is really new and it is really important because in Africa, emotional violence is not really considered emotional," said Alio. "It is not considered violence. So that is something health care providers are going to have to start looking at."

Alio says women who are the object of emotional violence are shamed into not seeking prenatal care, thus increasing the risk of a miscarriage or stillbirth.

"We show that if spousal abuse can be reduced or completely eliminated, we could actually prevent up to 33 percent of miscarriages and stillbirths," she said. "So hopefully this information can help different organizations and give them the backing they need to actually create and implement programs to help."

The authors of the study, published in this week's edition of the journal The Lancet, conclude that a good way to start is by screening for violence against women when they come into clinics for routine prenatal care.