The study commissioned by the British Medical Association says that three in 10 women and one in five men suffer the problems, while 750,000 children routinely witness it. Around 30% of abuse begins when a woman in a relationship is pregnant.
This unspoken epidemic is unquantifiable because some victims were not believed while others did not realise the abuse they suffered was a crime. Domestic abuse is an unspoken scar on our society, and many individuals never report that they are victims. Sometimes this is because of social stigma or simply because they do not know who to turn to. Other times it can be because the victims are so vulnerable that they are not in a position to seek help."
It claims five million women are victims of domestic abuse at some time in their lives, with around 350,000 incidents reported to the police each year. Some 80% of victims are women and among them are many elderly and disabled people. Partner abuse is common and it happens as frequently in same-sex relationships as in heterosexual ones.
Prof Gene Feder, the report's author, said: "If domestic violence was an infectious illness we would be calling it an epidemic. It is having a real impact on public health.
He suggests that every woman admitted to hospital with an injury should be asked if she has suffered domestic violence. Doctors need to ask patients the right kind of questions to determine whether they are victims and give them advice and support.
Doctors are being sent guidance by the British Medical Association highlighting the impact of domestic abuse on health, ranging from direct injuries such as fractures and burns to psychological torment.
If questioning is not handled properly thwe whole action could have an adverse efffect with the women being offended by this kind of questioning. The husbands or boyfriends accompaning the women too could create problems for inferring to thenm as offenders.
The questionairre should be framed in a way condusive for the patient to answer correctly about the violence. They should be given privacy without relatives or partners being present.
The health care staff has to be trained to recognise victims of domestic violence.
Prof Vivienne Nathanson, of the BMA, said: "The figures we provide in this report are shocking, but perhaps more alarming is that they are likely to be grossly underestimated." Prof Nathanson added: "Children need to understand what abuse is. It needs to be de-normalised so they understand that what they are seeing is aberrant behaviour that they can do something about."
"Children brought up in abusive households are often caught up in abuse as adults, either as victims or aggressors. The purpose of education is to try and break the cycle."
Domestic abuse costs the country more than Ģ3 billion a year. The report said that physical and psychological abuse has become a major health problem leading to heart attacks and mental illness. It calls for a Government-funded refuge building programme to deal with it.
Professor Feder said abused women had a much higher risk of heart disease but the most likely effect was on mental health, where rates of depression were three or four times higher than normal.
The report calls for health professionals to be aware of the potential for abuse in ethnic minority groups, where the breach of codes of honour may be punished by violence. For example, it says, women in some Asian families may be expected to tolerate abuse by their husband rather than seek help or leave the family home.
Domestic abuse can take place in forced marriages, where the partners have been coerced and do not know each other and may not have consented to the arrangement. In extreme cases, "honour crimes" may take place, which can involve violence and even killings.