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OBJECTIVE: To determine injury patterns and characteristics specific to domestic violence in women who present to the accident and emergency (A&E) department. DESIGN: A retrospective case note review of all female assaults over a one year period. The subjects were women who disclosed that their injuries were due to assaults by either a current or a previous male partner. Controls were female assault victims not injured by domestic violence. SETTING: A medium sized urban A&E department. RESULTS: There were 500 female assaults out of 48,169 new attendances. Domestic violence was disclosed in 103 cases. The following features were significantly associated with domestic violence in women: multiple injuries (p < 0.001) (especially to the head and arms), fractures (p < 0.05), loss of consciousness (p < 0.05), abdominal injuries (p < 0.05), pregnancy (p = 0.01), injury occurring on "stairs" (p = 0.01), and general practitioner referral (p < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Women who have been assaulted are more likely to have been injured during domestic violence if they sustain multiple injuries (including fractures), abdominal injuries, have lost consciousness, or have been referred by their general practitioner. These markers may help medical staff to identify more cases of undisclosed domestic violence. The markers need to be tested further in a prospective study.