The Link Between Childhood Physical Abuse and Midlife Heart Disease

It has been well established that survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to experience negative psychological outcomes than adults with no history of maltreatment. Specifically, individuals who have experienced physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during childhood have higher rates of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and drug and alcohol problems than people with no history of abuse. Some research has even suggested that the stress and maladaptive symptoms that are produced as a result of childhood abuse can negatively impact physical health and increase the risk for diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Because the relationship between childhood abuse and metabolic health in later life has not been fully explored, Aimee J. Midei of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh sought to make this topic the focus of her most recent research.

Midei believes that early identification of individuals at risk for negative metabolic outcomes could lessen the likelihood of physical ailments and even premature death. For her study, Midei enrolled 342 adult women and assessed their levels of childhood abuse using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Over the next 7 years, the women were screened for metabolic syndrome during annual check-ups. Midei discovered that more than one-third of the women were survivors of some form of childhood maltreatment, including sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. However, it was only the physical abuse that appeared to clearly affect adult metabolic levels.

When Midei examined the women and compared the types of abuse they experienced in childhood to their adult physical metabolic levels, she found that sexual abuse and emotional abuse did not directly contribute to any metabolic syndrome. However, the women who had survived physical abuse were twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome in adulthood as those women who had survived other types of childhood abuse. These findings were sustained even when other factors, such as socioeconomic status and mental health problems, were considered. Midei believes these results clearly demonstrate the need for increased prevention and detection of childhood abuse. She added, “It is possible that clinicians and clinical researchers may improve the trajectory of mental and physical health outcomes for victims of interpersonal violence.”

Midei, A. J., Matthews, K. A., Chang, Y.-F., Bromberger, J. T. (2012). Childhood physical abuse is associated with incident metabolic syndrome in mid-life women. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027891

Related articles:
Residual Effects of Childhood Abuse in Female Adult Survivors
When Is It Time to Separate the Family?
Defining the Role of the Nonoffending Parent in Childhood Abuse Is Difficult

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  • kris


    July 26th, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Oh this is so sad. Not only do so many of these survivors have to endure the pain of the past, they now have to look at what the future could potentially hold for them with dread. It seems that the abuse of childhood is never quite escapable, no matter how far you run.

  • Cassandra


    July 26th, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    Early intervention should start at the level to prevent the child abuse to begin with.

  • flynn


    July 27th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    It is no secret that being abused as a child does not end the day you turn 18. Even if the abuse has ended the memories and apparently the scars that it can leave on your physical and mental health will follow this person all through adulthood. Please, let’s get behind a strong campaign to end childhood physical, mental and sexual abuse. This is no way for a child to have to grow up. This is not the kind of childhood that I would want for anyone.

  • V F

    V F

    July 27th, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    childhood abuse is often like a scar that never goes away.the visible signs may disappear but deep down inside the effect remains.and it remains there until and unless a holistic treatment is done to cure the individual.

    now the problem is that many people do not undergo such a treatment at a psychological level and hence continue to suffer not only mentally but physically too,as evidenced by this study.

  • Donita R

    Donita R

    July 28th, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    This is pretty fascinating stuff. I guess I am a little surprised that not all forms of abuse had this kind of effect on people, but I guess you just never know how this sort of stuff is going to come back and manifest itself in you later in life.

  • Yvette


    July 29th, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    I would think that this kind of tracking could be so difficult in large part because there are older women who are so hesitant to admit that this happened to them when they were younger. They were raised in an era where you didn’t talk about this kind of thing as much as we do today. They were encouraged to supress their feelings and to pretend that nothing ever happened to them. I would strongly believe that a lot of their later life problems could be directly tied to having to hide those emotions and feelings and feeling like they can’t talk about their past.

  • Charles A. Francis

    Charles A. Francis

    August 18th, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Many of us are not fully aware of how our words can affect our children. I agree that abuse has life-long consequences. It manifests itself into physical, mental, and emotional disorders in adulthood.

    Those who are abused as children often treat their children the same way, because they grow up learning that kind of behavior is normal—and so the cycle continues.

    Mary Sovran recently wrote an article, “Healing Childhood Emotional Abuse with Mindfulness Meditation.” As the title suggests, it incorporates mindfulness meditation to help the healing process.

    She also describes an exercise called writing meditation, which she says dramatically changes the way we feel toward our abusers. She said that mindfulness meditation and the writing meditation enabled her to overcome the wounds from her childhood.

    I would add that practicing mindful speech can also be instrumental in breaking the cycle.

    Charles A. Francis
    The Mindfulness Meditation Institute

  • Kristie


    April 11th, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    I was physically abused,I was emotionally abused, I was sexually abused throughout childhood. my relationships when adult. I have had, anywhere from emotional, to sexual, to it was physical… Most recent relationship,, last one,,, Was all three types of abuse.. same as my childhood… same as both parents, all in one person. I ended up rushed into e.r. diagnosed congestive heart failure.. not right, or left side of heart, which normally congestive is one side of heart. Mine is both. Whole Heart. doctors have runned every test there is to find the cause. They have nothing on tests. I am 40 years old. I left that relationship few months right after. I’m on disability S.S. I have been on it since early twenties. I have to say its true. for the first time in my life Im telling, talking , about my childhood, my parents,,,, in therapy…. I cut off relationships with them. They do not have my address either, know where I live. Both still abuse me, as an adult. Step father is more extreme than mother… Im glad its over, I can lay it to rest, put it in past, and be able to heal, and grieve, for I’m not stuck in it any longer. Accept something I never could, and had no choice , but to cope with. Abuse is not love. Niether one loves. They hurt. Its so much easier to accept, my reality. Then to need — love. them to love me. Care. Care about what happens to me. They stripped my life, my dreams, my hopes all away from me… Iv let go…… let go ….. and finally be able to cry the tears that little girl I describe wasnt allowed.Healing tears.

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