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Childhood Trauma Associated With Adult Depression And Heart Disease


ATLANTA - Childhood trauma, but not adult trauma, is strongly associated with depression and coronary heart disease in adulthood, say Emory University researchers and colleagues presenting at the American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting, held March 7-10 in Budapest, Hungary.

“Little is known about the long-term emotional and physical consequences of childhood trauma and whether it poses greater long-term health risks than other types of stressors,” says study leader Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (cardiology) at Emory University School of Medicine and professor of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“Trauma occurring earlier in life is particularly harmful because it may disrupt the development of adaptive responses to stress. Future research on stress and disease should focus on early life stress,” says Dr. Vaccarino.

Dr. Vaccarino and her team studied 360 male twins (180 pairs) born between 1946 and 1956 from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry. All twins served in the military during the Vietnam era. The researchers looked at the relationship between past trauma and mental and cardiac health outcomes.

Childhood traumatic experiences, before age 18, were measured including physical, sexual, emotional abuse and general trauma. Adult trauma, after age 18, was also measured and included general trauma and military trauma. The researchers also looked at lifetime major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as medical disorders through health history by a clinician.

According to the study results, twins in the highest quartile of the Early Trauma Inventory were twice as likely to have major depressive disorder than other twins. Of the childhood traumas, emotional trauma was the most strongly associated with major depressive disorder.

Study participants with childhood trauma were also more likely to be exposed to trauma as adults and to develop posttraumatic stress disorder. After adjusting for smoking, twins in the highest group on the inventory were two to three times more likely to have a previous diagnosis of coronary heart disease, including previous myocardial infarction, coronary revascularization and hospitalizations for coronary heart disease.

In contrast, no significant associations were found for adult general trauma and combat trauma with either major depressive disorder or coronary heart disease, notes Dr. Vaccarino.

Dr. Vaccarino’s team includes Jack Goldberg, Seattle ERIC/VET Registry, University of Washington, Seattle. Wash; Carisa Maisano, Olga Novik, Nancy V. Murrah, Linda Jones, Rocky Buckham, and Emir Veledar, in the Department of Medicine, Emory University; and Farhan Jawed and James D. Bremner, in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.


More About Dr. Vaccarino

Dr. Vaccarino’s research at Emory is in the area of cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention. Her main research interests involve the study of social, behavioral and emotional determinants of cardiovascular risk, and the underlying mechanisms linking these factors to cardiovascular disease. Her goal is to uncover the biological pathways linking emotional stress and depression to cardiovascular disease. Another area of long-standing interest is the study of sex and race disparities in cardiovascular risk and understanding such differences.

As director of the Emory Program in Cardiovascular Outcomes Research and Epidemiology (EPICORE) of the Department of Medicine, she heads a multidisciplinary research group concentrating on clinical and population epidemiology, clinical trials, cardiovascular imaging and translational research in cardiovascular diseases and related disciplines. She is the medical director of the Emory Heart Center Information Services, which supports as an investigative resource the Emory Cardiac Database, one of the nation’s original and largest computerized cardiovascular databases.

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