Childhood trauma raises risk of heart disease

A childhood filled with psychological or physical hardships contributes to a person’s risk of developing heart disease as an adult, new research suggests.

Researchers at three medical institutions in Atlanta and San Diego looked into the medical records of 17,337 adults to identify risk factors and symptoms of heart disease, including heart attacks. The researchers also surveyed the study participants to assess which of them, as children, had witnessed domestic violence, experienced mental or physical abuse or neglect, or lived with someone who went to prison, abused drugs or alcohol, or was mentally ill.

The more kinds of trouble a volunteer experienced early in life, the greater were his or her chances of developing heart disease, the researchers found. Compared with having zero to two kinds of adverse childhood experiences, having seven or eight kinds more than doubled the participant’s risk, report Maxia Dong of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and her colleagues in the Sept. 28 Circulation.

The researchers already knew that kids who have hard lives are prone to grow up to show traits associated with heart disease, including obesity, depression, and smoking. But compared with people in the general population who also have these traits, those who lived through tough childhoods still often face a future that’s hard on the heart.

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