New findings from a long-term investigation indicate that child abuse leads to a potentially dangerous disruption of the body's stress response in adulthood. Previously abused individuals display elevated blood concentrations of inflammatory substances that fight infections and repair damaged tissue, say psychologist Andrea Danese of King's College London and her colleagues.
Prior research has linked persistent inflammation to heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
Danese's group analyzed data on 866 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between April 1972 and March 1973. Volunteers underwent medical and psychological tests at regular intervals from ages 3 to 32.
Home observations and reports from parents and children established that 83 participants had experienced abuse or serious traumas by age 11. These incidents included maternal rejection, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and two or more changes in a child's primary caregiver.