Is Child Abuse Making Adults Sick?


Can a history of child abuse cause health problems into adulthood? NPR reports this week that it’s a real possibility. Dr. Vincent Felitti, a preventive medicine specialist in San Diego, has released data from a study called “ACE” or “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” The study surveyed over 17,000 people on trauma from childhood including sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, neglect, domestic violence in the home, loss of a parent, substance abuse in parents, and others.

The participants with the highest “ACE” scores (those who had experienced the most different types of trauma in their childhood) were significantly more likely to have chronic health problems in adulthood. Cancer, diabetes, addiction, and stroke were just a few of the health issues that occurred in much higher concentration in those with higher ACE scores.

“According to the findings, adults who had four or more “yeses” to the ACE questions were, in general, twice as likely to have heart disease, compared to people whose ACE score was zero. Women with five or more “yeses” were at least four times as likely to have depression as those with no ACE points.”

Although an association between trauma and illness does not mean that one has caused the other, scientists and doctors are researching why the correlation is so high. There is evidence that abuse and neglect in childhood actual changes the wiring in the brain that affects a persons’ self control and self regulation. An adult that has little self regulation is more likely to drink, smoke, or overeat, all of which contribute to the chronic health problems in the study as well.

Interested in finding out more about how childhood trauma and adult health relate? You can listen to the story or read the article on NPR