STUDY OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association between violence and abuse suffered by women during childhood or adult life, and the manifestation of a high level of common physical and mental symptoms. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: A questionnaire was sent to a random population of women, 40 to 50 years of age, living in a rural Swedish community. The response rate was 81.7 per cent (397 women). Odds ratios were used to estimate bivariate associations between the experience of violence/abuse and common symptoms. Multiple logistic regression analyses were used to test for confounding and effect modification. MAIN RESULTS: The experience of violence or abuse during childhood was reported by 32.2 per cent of the women, while 15.6 per cent reported being abused as an adult. In both cases, these experiences reached statistical significance in their association with a high level of common symptoms (OR=1.67; 95% CI 1. 08, 2.49 and OR=2.26; 95%CI 1.30, 3.92, respectively). The associations between childhood and as well adult experience of violence or abuse and common symptoms were largely independent of potential confounders such as unemployment, job strain, social support, and sense of coherence. The combined exposure to adult violence/abuse and low psychosocial coping resources, such as low social support or a low level of sense of coherence, considerably increased the odds ratio for common symptoms and a synergistic effect seemed to exist. CONCLUSION: Violence or abuse experience is an important factor when considering illness manifestations in terms of common symptoms in women 40 to 50 years of age.