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Possible Link Between Childhood Trauma and Adult Heart Disease Risk

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Everyone has a story to tell and if we’re lucky, the opening pages of our story might begin with something like “Once upon a child, there was this little prince - or princess as the case may be - who had this amazing childhood.” Even the very word “childhood” evokes images of carefree, innocent days spent swimming, chasing frogs from the pond, bicycle safaris with friends, snow cone dripping off chins, princess tea parties, searching for shapes in the clouds, and more adventures than there is imagination – or time – to speak to. At least, this is the way that childhood is supposed to be.

The reality is that for some, childhood is not such a pleasant adventure – or memory. Instead of being a storybook fairy land and a time for happy-ever-after, childhood can be quite the opposite for some children. Instead of a magic wonderland, some may find childhood is a stressful time fraught with adversity which can come in many different forms: illness, poverty, death of loved ones, mistreatment, mental or physical abuse, poor parental monitoring or guidance, and neglect. Whether transparent, or a little less obvious, such adversity leaves a psychological mark which many carry into adulthood. Researchers now believe that some psychosocial stressors and adverse events - such as mental and physical abuse, mistreatment, and lack of demonstrations of love, for example - may also leave a physical mark rending those with more difficult childhoods at a greater risk of heart disease as adults.

Led by Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, researchers found that childhood mental health and psychosocial environmental factors appear to play a role in the development of heart disease in adulthood. Specifically, patients who suffered some type of mistreatment or mental adversity during childhood were found to have higher risk of heart disease than those with a more normal childhood.

Researchers based their findings upon an analysis of the 3,554 patient records, results from a family risk survey, which included questions related to the presence of verbal or mental abuse in childhood, and demonstrations of love versus anger. A 21-point family risk was assigned to each participant. Total risk was examined in the light of family history, along with age and the Framingham heart risk assessment to determine risk of heart disease over a 10-year period. Researchers found that patients with high family risk scores had a slightly higher risk of heart disease than those with lower family risk scores.

This increased risk was true for both men and women; however, researchers found that different psychosocial environmental factors affected men and women differently in terms of increasing their risk of heart disease. For example, general childhood neglect, that is poor parental monitoring or household organization, tended to increase a man’s risk of adult heart disease. In addition to these two factors, women who reported verbal and physical abuse during childhood were found to have higher risks of heart disease as adults.

As medical researchers continue to learn more about the role that psychosocial and environmental factors play in our health, the issue of childhood environmental factors on long term health, chronic diseases, and conditions such as heart disease is certain to continue to garner interest.

Adversity in Childhood May Increase Risk For Adult Heart Disease, Medical News Today, 04 Aug 2011

Brown University (2011, August 3). Adverse childhood could raise adult heart disease risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2011, from

Reviewed August 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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