Adults who had Stress in Childhood (2)

Researchers have been shocked at the profound impact childhood stress can have on health in adults.  The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Study *, led by my friend Vincent Felitti, MD in San Diego, is one of the best examples.  They studied 18,000 people who were having routine check-ups.  You can read a summary here .

A questionnaire asked if people had experienced:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual contact abuse

The questionnaire also asked about growing up in a household where:

  • Someone was in prison
  • The mother was treated violently
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser was present
  • Someone was mentally ill
  • At least one biological parent was lost to the patient during childhood (regardless of cause)

An ACE score was calculated by assigning one point for each of these eight categories that a person had experienced.  53% of their subjects had a score of at least one.  25% had a score of 2.  7% had a score of 4 or more.  22% reported sexual abuse.

Then they looked at health outcomes in relation to ACE score.  They found that with higher ACE scores, people were many times more likely to:

  • Have multiple physical symptoms
  • Smoke or have emphysema or heart disease
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease or hepatitis
  • Use intravenous drugs or abuse alcohol
  • Suffer from Depression or have attempted Suicide
  • Be Obese or have Diabetes
  • Be divorced or a victim of violence from an intimate partner
  • Have multiple sexual partners or an unintended pregnancy

This is discouraging information for some people.  However, for me this research reveals an opportunity to intervene in people’s lives to address the root cause of many health problems.  More research in the next post.

* Felitti VJ et al (1998). The relationship of adult health status to childhood abuse and household dysfunction. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 14:245-258.

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