In brief: Childhood trauma is taken to heart

In brief

Childhood trauma is taken to heart

Child abuse and traumatic experiences in early life raise the risk of heart disease many years later, according to a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. Kaiser Permanente, the largest health maintenance organization in the United States, collaborated with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention on the research, in which more than 17,000 patients of both sexes answered questions about childhood physical and emotional abuse and neglect, family conflict and breakups, domestic violence, and parental drug abuse and alcoholism, as well as their own current or past problems with anger and depression. A typical question: "Did a parent or other adult in the household never, sometimes, often, or very often swear at you, insult you, or put you down?"

At an average age of 56, about 10% of the people responding had heart disease. After controls for ethnic origin and education, all the experiences mentioned in the questionnaire except marital discord strongly increased the risk of heart disease, with emotional abuse by parents raising the odds most. The more kinds of childhood trauma or abuse a person had experienced, the higher the likelihood of heart disease in middle age and later. With seven or more kinds, the odds more than tripled.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »