Torture and its neurological sequelae

A. Moreno, M. A. Grodin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Background: Refugees and asylum seekers continue to enter the United States and the European Union in record numbers. Some have estimated that between 5-35% of all refugees have suffered torture in their countries of origin. Although general practitioners and specialized physicians are likely to encounter victims of torture as patients, few providers are familiar with the health problems that may affect this patient population. Purpose: To provide neurologists, neurosurgeons, and rehabilitation medicine physicians with basic knowledge about survivors of torture that can help in the diagnosis, treatment, and referral of such patients. Methods: A MEDLINE (1966-October 2001) search using keywords torture and sequelae (nervous system diseases and brain injuries) was conducted. Other data sources included books, reference lists, online resources and expert opinion. Findings: Forms of torture that may affect the nervous system include beatings, gunshot wounds, stab wounds, asphyxiation, prolonged suspension and electrocution. Victims of torture commonly experience neurological symptoms such as headaches, vertigo, loss of consciousness and dizziness during and after torture. A successful and meaningful clinical interaction with a survivor of torture includes avoiding retraumatization, building trust, spelling out any limits on confidentiality, and above anything else, establishing empathy with the patient. Conclusions: Neurological sequelae of torture can be devastating physically and psychologically. The treatment of these neurological conditions does not differ from other patient populations. However, the clinical approach is unique and must focus on avoiding retraumatization and helping the victim reintegrate into society as quickly as possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-223
Number of pages11
JournalSpinal Cord
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002


  • Human rights
  • Neurological sequelae
  • Refugee
  • Torture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Rehabilitation


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