Repetitive Head Injury and Cognitive, Physical, and Emotional Symptoms in Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

Justin E. Karr, Sharon E. Leong, Eric O. Ingram, T. K. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Many women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) experience repetitive head injuries in their lifetime, but limited research has examined the cumulative effects of multiple head injuries on post-concussion symptom severity in this population. This study examined how number of lifetime head injuries and episodes of loss of consciousness (LOC) due to head injuries were related to current cognitive, physical, and emotional symptoms among women survivors of IPV. Cisgender women from Kentucky were recruited following a protective order against an intimate partner, including 268 women with no reported lifetime head injuries and 250 women with one or more IPV-related head injuries (mean [M] = 17.2 head injuries, standard deviation [SD] = 50.5, median [Mdn] = 4, range = 1-515; M = 1.8 LOC episodes, SD = 4.3, Mdn = 1, range = 0-35, respectively). Participants underwent in-person interviews about lifetime physical and sexual IPV history, head injury history, and current cognitive, physical, and emotional symptoms. Sociodemographic characteristics, physical and sexual IPV severity, and current symptom severity were examined in relation to number of head injuries and LOC episodes. A higher number of head injuries was associated with greater age, White race, less than high school education, unemployment, and rural residence. No sociodemographic variables differed based on number of LOC episodes. Greater number of lifetime head injuries and LOC episodes correlated significantly with physical IPV severity (rho = 0.35, p < 0.001; rho = 0.33, p < 0.001, respectively) and sexual IPV severity (rho = 0.22, p < 0.001; rho = 0.19, p = 0.003). Greater number of head injuries and LOC episodes correlated significantly with greater cognitive (rho = 0.33, p < 0.001; rho = 0.23, p < 0.001, respectively), physical (rho = 0.36, p < 0.001; rho = 0.31, p < 0.001), emotional (rho = 0.36, p < 0.001; rho = 0.18, p = 0.004), and total symptom severity (rho = 0.39, p < 0.001; rho = 0.26, p < 0.001). In group comparisons, participant groups stratified by number of head injuries (i.e., 0, 1-3, 4+) differed in total symptom severity (p < 0.001, g2 = 0.15), with greater symptom burden associated with more head injuries. Participants with and without LOC differed in symptom severity: cognitive (p < 0.001, d = 0.45), physical (p < 0.001, d = 0.60), emotional (p = 0.004, d = 0.37), and total symptom severity (p < 0.001, d = 0.53). Group differences between participants with and without LOC remained significant after controlling for sociodemographic variables and IPV severity. There was no cumulative effect of LOC, in that participants with 1 LOC episode did not differ from participants with 2 + LOC episodes (p > 0.05). Based on hierarchical regression analyses, only physical symptoms were independently related to number of head injuries (p = 0.008, DR2 = 0.011) and number of LOC episodes (p = 0.014, DR2 = 0.021) after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics and IPV severity. Among women survivors of IPV, cumulative head injuries appear related to greater symptom severity. Greater head injury history was independently related to worse physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, dizziness, sleep problems), whereas cognitive and emotional symptoms were, in part, attributable to cumulative physical and emotional trauma due to IPV. Women survivors of IPV with repetitive head injuries have unmet neurobehavioral health needs that may benefit from targeted interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-498
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
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  • brain concussion
  • brain injuries
  • craniocerebral trauma
  • intimate partner violence
  • post-concussion syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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