Children who experience abuse or other forms of trauma early in life are far more likely to develop heart conditions as adults, a new study has found.
Medical experts from the University of Pittsburgh and Boston University said early child adversity — defined as maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence, or living with a household member with serious mental illness — is associated with a variety of chronic, life-shortening physical- and mental-health conditions, such as smoking, substance abuse, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and attempted suicide.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, underscore the need for healthcare professionals and officials to focus on the issue and help those most at risk, said David A. Brent, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Michael Silverstein, M.D., of the Boston University School of Medicine.
“The good news is that, if detected early enough, the impact of family adversity on child health outcomes can be reversed, or at least attenuated,” the researchers said. “For example, if maternal depression is treated to remission, the patients' children show symptomatic and functional gains.
“Economic interventions that provide local employment and move parents out of poverty have been shown to be temporally related to a decreased risk for behavioral disorders in the children of the assisted families. Earlier foster placement can, to some extent, reverse the deleterious neurobiological and cognitive effects of extreme deprivation in infancy.”
The authors also urged physicians to be advocates for families to help them achieve what all parents want — a secure environment for their children that allows them to grow up to beh healthy adults.
“Home visitation programs for at-risk families of infants have been shown to have long-term positive effects on physical and mental health, education, employment, and family stability,” they said. “Access to quality preschool education can help to buffer the deleterious effects of poverty.”
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