Childhood Abuse Predicates Health Problems
> 1/17/2007 10:40:52 AM

Child abuse is an epidemic - it affects more boys and girls than any disease, and yet we've not allocated the corresponding research and funding. Some might argue that this is because the problem is not clinical in nature, and that precise responses come in infinite variations. But more recent research clearly demonstrates that the effects of childhood maltreatment, particularly sexual abuse, resonate throughout the victim's life in very physically manifest ways. In the newest study from King's College in London, researchers followed one thousand individuals over a period of more than thirty years, looking for signs of stress and deteriorating physical health.

Unsurprisingly, after taking unhealthy lifestyle variables into account, those subjects who had been abused in some form as children were twice as likely to develop various medical ailments, chief among them general inflammation, a faulty immune system response to harmful stimuli that can predict the later likelihood of arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Researchers have found that childhood abuse can alter brain functions and physiological responses to stress. Early-life traumas often result in decreased amounts of the hormone glucocorticoid, which acts to contain the natural inflammatory response to infection or injury.

And yet, early interventions are clearly not common enough. A glaring detail that certainly impairs the perpetual battle against child abuse is the fact that too many doctors who suspect that their young patients have been mistreated in some way do not report their concerns to proper authorities because of concern about misdiagnosis and/or possible legal action. This issue highlights the clear need to better educate doctors and nurses about recognizing the signs of childhood abuse and the proper manner in which to report it. When parents abuse their own children, doctors are one of the few potential sources of intervention. If children and parents cannot trust these doctors, who can they trust? The response to child abuse and neglect costs this country billions of dollars each year, and it is in our best interest to intercept damaging cases before they transform into insurmountable health problems.

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