Poor physical and mental health in some adults related to childhood abuse

Childhood Abuse

Summary: Childhood abuse is not rare in the US and affects about one in seven children. It is well known that such a trauma can cause many issues during adolescence and young adulthood. Those exposed to childhood abuse may have mental health issues, behavioral problems, and risky behavior. However, now a study suggests that it may even significantly increase the risk of mental and physical ailments in old age. It may almost double the depression, anxiety, and even COPD risk.


Older adults who had a traumatic childhood are more likely to develop chronic painful conditions and various chronic disorders like cancer, depression, anxiety, COPD, and others.
These days chronic non-communicable diseases have emerged as a significant issue. Medical science may manage these conditions well, but they are challenging to treat. Conditions like COPD, depression, anxiety, or even cancer, may not kill immediately, but these issues cause significant pain and disability.


Researchers want to understand why certain painful and chronic conditions are rising so quickly despite improved living standards. There are many reasons for the increased mental health disorders and chronic painful conditions. It appears that childhood abuse is one such significant factor.


CDC data suggests that childhood abuse and neglect are quite a common problem. It affects almost one in seven children. It means that there are millions of adults who had traumatic experiences in their childhood. Childhood abuse could be physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Over the long term, children who were abused are more likely to engage in risky behavior and have unhealthy lifestyles. However, now a study suggests that the ill effects of childhood trauma continue to haunt a person even in old age.


A new study shows that childhood abuse continues to cause pain in old age


Childhood abuse causing issues at school age, increasing the risk of substance abuse, and risky behavior are well known. Childhood trauma may also cause mental health issues and behavioral disorders in adolescents and young adults. However, what researchers did not know is that painful childhood may significantly contribute to the painful conditions in old age


The new study was done in British Columbia, Canada. In the study, researchers enrolled 409 older adults living with various ailments. First, there were all survivors of childhood abuse, and now they were older than 60 years.


Researchers did not expect childhood memories and pain to continue to haunt even in old age. Thus, they decided to compare the prevalence of painful conditions in older adults with difficult childhood to those with a normal childhood. Researchers were amazed to see the marked difference between the two groups.


The researchers found that childhood trauma increased the risk of anxiety, depression, and COPD by as much as twice. This is a massive difference, something that researchers did not expect. They also found that childhood abuse survivors have a 50% higher risk of cancers and a 70% greater risk of migraines and debilitating pain. They are also at a 33% higher risk of developing arthritis. Interestingly, it seems that childhood abuse only slightly increases heart disease risk.


Doctors cannot fully explain the association between childhood abuse and a higher risk of painful conditions in older adults. Nonetheless, they think that there are multiple mechanisms of action. For example, those with childhood trauma have altered stress responses and neural pathways and are more likely to live with chronic inflammation. In addition, they often have abnormal cortisol levels.


These findings are relevant as one is not likely to pay much attention to the possible link between childhood abuse and a higher risk of chronic painful ailments in older adults. However, the present study shows that it may be a significant contributing factor in some cases. Furthermore, childhood trauma can significantly increase the risk of multiple health conditions. Thus, anyone treating chronic pain conditions in older adults must have telehealth treatment regarding this

Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP

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