Oct 01, 2018

Childhood Trauma and its Link to Chronic Illnesses and Disease

by Lisa A. Romano

ace score childhood trauma chronic disease

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” - Frederick Douglass

Could the chronic illnesses that people face in their adult lives be blamed on the trauma they had to face as children? According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine titled ‘Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults’, the answer is yes.

This study showed through scientific testing that abuse or neglect during childhood plays a big role in the development of autoimmune and other chronic diseases. This study was also important as it introduced ACE score, a measure of illnesses caused later in life by ACE (Adverse Childhood Events).

Children’s brain is still developing as they grow. If they are exposed to repeated traumatic experiences, it can weaken the development of their brain’s architecture and cause lifelong physical, mental and behavioral issues.

So if you suffer from a chronic disease and get to hear the phrase “it’s all in your head”, it is partially true. Your brain is wired differently from someone who didn’t have to go through childhood trauma.

Diseases Associated With Childhood Trauma

There is a long list of diseases associated with childhood trauma. People who have high ACE scores often fall victims to illnesses such as mental health disorders, substance abuse problems and a tendency toward violent relationships. We will briefly focus on some of the chronic diseases ACEs have to face.

Heart Disease

According to research conducted by the American Heart Association, 9 out of 10 ACEs suffer from an increased risk of IHD (ischemic heart disease) by up to 1.7 times. And a major cause of IHD in such cases was psychological factors rather than the more traditional factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, etc.


A study which compared two groups –a control group and a group of patients of fibromyalgia – revealed that those suffering from fibromyalgia scored high on ACE.
Many of the fibromyalgia patients reported suffering from several traumas before the age of seven. These included lack of physical affection, substance abuse problems in parents (especially mother), and poor emotional connection with others in the family and difficult financial situations.


People that suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) have also been studied to have suffered from physical abuse experienced at early stages of life.

Autoimmune Disease

According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, people who are hospitalized for autoimmune diseases also have a high probability of scoring high on ACE. This study was able to successfully demonstrate a direct and positive correlation between traumatic childhood experiences and alterations in the immune system.

Other research that has studied the relationship between childhood trauma and autoimmune diseases has further suggested that repeated exposure to stress at young ages can have a have a profound and lasting effect on the developing central nervous system. This could further disturb the functioning of the endocrine and immune systems later in life.

It is not too late to reclaim your life and begin healing that wounded young heart.