Childhood Trauma May Harm the Heart Decades Later

MONDAY, Dec. 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Experiencing trauma as a child or teen apparently makes you more susceptible to heart disease.

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) says that people who were abused, bullied, witnessed violence or had other traumatic experiences when they were children or teens are at increased risk for heart disease.

The AHA based its stance on a review of published studies that found a strong association between traumatic experiences in childhood or teen years and the chances of developing conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes in early adulthood.

In turn, those conditions increase the risk for heart and blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

The statement was published Dec. 18 in the journal Circulation.

“The real tragedy is that children are exposed to these traumatic experiences in the first place,” Shakira Suglia, who chaired the group that wrote the statement, said in an AHA news release.

“We are talking about children and teens experiencing physical and sexual abuse, and witnessing violence,” she said. “Sadly, the negative consequences of experiencing these events do not end when the experience ends. It lasts many years after exposure.”

Suglia, an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, added, “Ideally, we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place as well as preventing the health consequences that arise from having these experiences.”

Nearly 60 percent of Americans report having had a traumatic experience during childhood, according to the AHA.

Along with abuse, neglect and witnessing violence, these experiences can include: parental divorce, separation or death; parental substance abuse; living in a neighborhood with a high crime rate; homelessness; discrimination; poverty; and the loss of a relative or another loved one.

It’s not clear how traumatic experiences affect heart health, but research suggests that behavioral, mental health and biological reactions to elevated stress may all play a role. However, the authors added that the evidence is observational and doesn’t prove cause and effect.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips to prevent heart disease.