Supporting research

These studies suggest that there may be a link between childhood trauma and autoimmune diseases, although further research is needed to fully understand the nature of this relationship. The exact causes of autoimmune diseases are not fully understood, but it is believed that they result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Childhood trauma linked to Autoimmune Disorders

For the present study, AD included the following 21 illnesses identified by a recent National Institutes of Health report (1): Addison’s disease, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, autoimmune thrombocytopenia purpura, celiac disease, dermatomyositis, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, idiopathic myocarditis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, pernicious anemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, Sjogren disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, vitiligo, and Wegener’s granulomatosis. Persons were considered at risk for hospitalization with ICD-9 coded AD as a discharge diagnosis if they were currently enrolled in the HMO at the time of the hospitalization and the hospitalization with ICD-9 coded AD occurred between the baseline survey date and December 31, 2005.

For years, Nakazawa had been plagued by illnesses: Guillain-Barré syndrome that left her temporarily paralyzed (twice), thyroiditis, nerve damage, severe eczema, dangerously low red and white blood cell counts, and more. Then Nagazawa got lucky. She was referred to Anastasia Rowland-Seymour, a Johns Hopkins internist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine. Rowland-Seymour asked a question no doctor had asked Nakazawa: Had she suffered unusual emotional or physical trauma as a child?

Autoimmune disease is recognized as a major health crisis in the United States. Today, 50 million Americans—80 percent of whom are women—suffer one or more autoimmune conditions. Thirty years ago, only one in 400 people developed an autoimmune disease. Today, one in 12 Americans—one in nine women—have an autoimmune disease. More women are diagnosed each year with an autoimmune disease than breast cancer and cardiovascular disease combined.

These findings are in line with previous studies that show associations between childhood trauma, dissociation, alexithymia, and ADs. They indicate that mental health professionals and medical doctors should assess childhood trauma in autoimmune patients. 

This study found that individuals who experienced childhood trauma had a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases later in life.
This systematic review and meta-analysis found that childhood trauma was associated with an increased risk of autoimmune diseases.
This systematic review and meta-analysis found that adverse childhood experiences, including trauma, were associated with an increased risk of autoimmune diseases in adulthood.
This systematic review found that there was evidence to suggest a link between childhood trauma and the development of autoimmune diseases, although more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind this association.

Childhood trauma and brain development

Trauma in childhood is a grave psychosocial, medical, and public policy problem that has serious consequences for its victims and for society. Developmental traumatology, the systemic investigation of the psychiatric and psychobiological effects of chronic overwhelming stress on the developing child, provides a framework and principles when empirically examining the neurobiological effects of pediatric trauma.

Stress that occurs continually, or is triggered by multiple sources, can take a toll on a child’s health. Toxic stress that children suffer not only shapes their emotional lives as adults, but also affects their physical health and longevity.

The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation. Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.

Children who experience early life toxic stress are at risk of long-term adverse health effects that may not manifest until adulthood. This article briefly summarizes the findings in recent studies on toxic stress and childhood adversity following the publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Policy Report on the effects of toxic stress. 

Neuroscience and childhood trauma

Neurobiological systems may be particularly susceptible to deleterious impact of childhood trauma, and the impact of childhood trauma on development and subsequent functional outcomes across the lifespan has been well-documented.

Exposure to early-life adversity (ELA) increases the risk for psychopathologies associated with amygdala-prefrontal cortex (PFC) circuits. While sex differences in vulnerability have been identified with a clear need for individualized intervention strategies, the neurobiological substrates of ELA-attributable differences remain unknown due to a paucity of translational investigations taking both development and sex into account

ADHD and childhood trauma

Why the symptoms are often confused, and how to avoid a misdiagnosis. When kids have behavior and attention issues in school, the first explanation that comes to mind is often ADHD. But exposure to trauma can also cause symptoms that look like ADHD. And trauma is often overlooked when kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD.

In this Guide, we provide definitions of child traumatic stress and ADHD, explain how symptoms can overlap, and summarize some of the differences between the two.


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