How Domestic Violence Can Injure the Brain

Physical violence, stress, and mental health issues can take a toll on brain health


The 2015 movie Concussion spotlighted chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a rare disease found in people who suffer multiple blows to the head. As in the movie, CTE is most popularly discussed in the context of football players and soldiers who have had many—even thousands—of blows to the skull, either through aggressive tackles or combat. But it’s also seen occasionally in survivors of domestic violence whose partners have been physically abusive.

“Folks who experience domestic violence have a high risk of traumatic brain injury,” says David Cifu, MD, chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. He’s also the principal investigator on a $62.2 million federally funded study aiming to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat brain injuries.


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