The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease

Cover of Chapter 8 By Anda Felitti
December 18, 2018 4:40 pm

Biomedical researchers increasingly recognize that childhood events, specifically abuse and emotional
trauma, have profound and enduring effects on the neuroregulatory systems mediating medical illness as well as on behavior from childhood into adult life. Our understanding of the connection between emotional
trauma in childhood and the pathways to pathology in adulthood is still being formed as neuroscientists
begin to describe the changes that take place on the molecular level as a result of events that occurred decades earlier.

The turning point in modern understanding of the role of trauma in medical and psychiatric pathology is commonly credited to Freud, who studied patients of the French neurologist Charcot and attributed their unusual behavior to histories of trauma rather than to underlying biomedical pathology. The writings of
Freud and Breuer as well as Janet represented a departure from the traditional view that mental illness and unexplained medical disease were the result of divine retribution or demonic possession, instead revealing that they were strongly associated with a history of childhood abuse.

The focus of this chapter will be an examination of the relationship between traumatic stress in childhood
and the leading causes of morbidity, mortality and disability in the USA: cardiovascular disease, chronic
lung disease, chronic liver disease, depression and other forms of mental illness, obesity, smoking and
alcohol and drug abuse.

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