Childhood trauma with fatal consequences for the heart
Childhood traumatic experiences can have a significant impact on the development of those affected. Serious impairments of mental health later in life are among the known consequences. Scientists have now found that heart health is also significantly affected by childhood trauma.
“People who experienced traumatic experiences as a child or teenager are apparently more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases,” reports the professional association of pediatricians from the study results of the American Heart Association (AHA). The researchers published their study in the specialist journal “Circulation” about two months ago. Bullying, abuse, experiences of violence and other traumatic experiences in childhood are extremely harmful to heart health.
Effects of childhood trauma examined
In a review, the AHA scientists evaluated the results of previous studies on possible effects of childhood trauma on cardiometabolic health, including obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. They found that children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic experiences such as abuse, bullying and neglect or who have witnessed violence are more likely to develop heart and blood vessel diseases in adulthood. Those affected therefore suffer more frequently from complaints such as coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Protect children from traumatic experiences
In a press release on the study results, Prof. Shakira Suglia from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, emphasized that the real tragedy is primarily that children are exposed to these traumatic experiences. "We are talking about children and adolescents who have been physically and sexually abused and who have experienced violence," continues Prof. Suglia. Unfortunately, according to the expert, the negative consequences of experiencing these events do not end when the experience ends, but persist many years after the exposure. "Ideally, we want to prevent these things from happening at all and also avoid the health consequences of these experiences," Suglia emphasizes.
What events can traumatize children?
According to the researchers, the possible traumatic experiences in childhood include all threats to physical security as well as threats to the family and social structures. For example:
- emotional, physical or sexual abuse,
- Bullying by peers,
- domestic violence,
- parental divorces, separations or death of parents,
- Family drug abuse,
- Living in a neighborhood with high crime rates,
- Loss of a relative or other loved one.
Changed reactions to stress
Although the study did not investigate the cause-and-effect relationship, the scientists assume that traumatic childhood experiences can have a significant impact on the development of cardiovascular diseases. This may be due to the unhealthy reactions to stress such as smoking or overeating. “Repeated and chronic childhood stress is known to increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders in children and adolescents, which in turn leads to unhealthy behaviors that often result in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases”; explain the scientists.
New approaches to prevention
But not all children who have had traumatic experiences develop diseases of the heart and blood vessels. “This indicates the existence of a number of biological, ecological, cultural and social factors that can help reduce risk and prevent the development of diseases,” emphasize the researchers. Based on this knowledge, new approaches to prevention could possibly be derived, according to the scientists. (fp)