The women who visit me have at times already suffered from these unclear clinical pictures for a very long time and have every now and then already undergone surgical procedures. Many patients do not develop the symptoms immediately, but after a longer time. In numerous cases the symptoms of this subsequent disease after an abortion (post-abortion syndrome or PAS) are consistent with the finding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The connection with the trauma (the abortion) is however often still repressed in medicine.
PAS and PTSD are accompanied by spontaneous memories of the trauma. These are often triggered by stimuli and lead to physical and psychological stress reactions. There is a tendency to avoid the memories. Repression combined with a tendency toward isolation, increasing addiction and a higher risk of depression and suicide are just as typical as increased internal tension with reduced concentration, increased aggression and panic attacks.
Studies in the US put the frequency of PTSD in the population at 12 to 14%. For Switzerland that would be around one million people. This generally breaks down to 2/3 women and 1/3 men. Here the traumatisation due to abortions as well as due to complications during pregnancy and birth lead to women being concerned more frequently. In abortion counselling women should be informed thoroughly of the risk of suffering from PAS after an abortion. Should the typical symptoms develop after the abortion, women require qualified treatment.
The image shown here, which was painted by a PAS patient at the beginning of our therapy, shows how deeply she suffers from a bleeding heart, a bleeding womb and a wound to the head. Her entire personality is burdened by the grief and guilt she feels about the death of her child. She has no hands, signifying her helplessness and depressive disorder. Her mouth is also missing; she is speechlessly handed over to her internal experience in the constant recurrence of thoughts of the abortion. She hopes for a helpful counterpart from psychotherapy and that her symptoms and feelings having been repressed for years may find expression.
Dr. med. Angelika Pokropp-Hippen*
* Dr. med. Angelika Pokropp-Hippen is a specialist in general medicine and a psychotherapist with her own practice in Münster, Germany. She has a great deal of experience with patients who suffer from PAS.