Disease often linked to childhood events, doctor tells summit
AUBURN - Children who suffer emotional, physical or sexual abuse at home are more likely to become unhealthy adults, a health study found.
American health care providers need to recognize the important role childhood trauma plays later in life, said Dr. Vincent Felitti, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California who spoke Tuesday at the Maine Governor's 10th Annual Summit on Cardiovascular Health.
Felitti said an $8 million "ACE" study of 440,000 people probed their childhoods for abnormal traits and found a direct link between adverse childhood experiences and health problems in adulthood.
He cited a case of two sisters who were grossly overweight. It wasn't a genetic trait despite the traditional thinking of health professionals. The women identified sexual molestation as a major factor that led to abnormal eating habits.
One of the women dropped from 408 pounds to 132 pounds after an extreme weight-loss regimen at a health clinic. When she quickly regained the weight, Felitti probed her past. She revealed a childhood of molestation. She said she suspected she had a sleep-eating disorder. She would awake in the morning to find used pots and pans in her kitchen, but would have no recollection of eating during the night. She realized her recent weight gain was triggered by a man who propositioned her.
"It was a remarkably important case,"
Felitti said.The notion of tracing heart disease to a dysfunctional family runs contrary to conventional thinking, Felitti said. But the statistics have convinced him of the importance of preventing trauma in children. Despite the pivotal findings, no major health care provider has changed the way it goes about diagnosing and treating health problems to date, Felitti said.
He urged health care professionals to start conducting extensive biopsychosocial and trauma-oriented histories of their patients in an effort to get at the underlying reasons for their poor health."It's feasible, affordable and acceptable," he said.Some questions doctors should be asking their patients are:
- Have you lived in a war zone?
- Have you been a combat soldier?
- Who in the family has committed suicide?
- Who in the family has been murdered?
- Have you ever been molested as a child?
- Have you ever been raped
Health providers need to ask their patients how their traumatic childhoods have affected them later in life, Felitti said.
The study showed that the chances of a woman being raped as an adult are more than 30 percent higher if she answered "yes" to four or more adverse childhood experiences, such as sexual abuse or neglect, Felitti said.
"That's really extraordinary," he said.
Adult health risk factors that are linked directly to childhood experiences include: alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, obesity, depression, sexually transmitted diseases and heart disease, Felitti said.
Addictive behavior also is linked to childhood experiences, he said. People seek to block the pain and memory of their childhoods by using mind-altering substances, he said. And those substances, in turn, end up affecting their health.
Of the people who took part in the ACE study, most identified a childhood risk factor, including those who were subjected to:
- emotional abuse, 11 percent;
- physical abuse, 28 percent;
- sexual abuse, 22 percent;
- emotional neglect, 15 percent;
- alcoholism and drug abuse in the home, 27 percent;
- loss of a biological parent before age 18, 23 percent;
- depression or mental health issues at home, 17 percent; and
- mother treated violently, 13 percent.
Source: Sun Jounal.Com