A bad childhood may increase risks of heart and blood vessel diseases

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In a study from the University of Copenhagen, scientists found children who experience adversity, including serious family illness or death, poverty, neglect, or dysfunctional and stressful family relationships, are at increased risk of developing diseases of the heart or blood vessels in early adulthood.

The new research followed nearly 1.3 million children, born between January 1980 and December 2001, up until 31 December 2018.

During this time, 4118 developed heart disease between their 16th birthdays and the end of 2018, by which time the oldest were 38 years old.

Compared to young adults who experienced little adversity in childhood, the team found an approximately 60% higher risk of developing heart disease among young adults who had experienced adversity.

This was especially true for those who had experienced serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart or lung diseases, or death in the family, and those who had experienced high and accelerating levels of adversity in childhood.

The team says the association they saw between childhood adversity and heart disease in early adulthood may be explained partly by behaviors that can affect health, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and physical inactivity.

Childhood is a sensitive period characterized by rapid cognitive and physical developments; frequent and chronic exposure to adversity in childhood may influence the development of the physiological stress response, and this may provide an important explanation for the mechanisms underlying these findings.

The researchers plan to investigate the possible underlying mechanisms for their findings so as to understand the impact of childhood adversity on heart disease prognosis and survival.

The current study has built on earlier work the researchers carried out that showed a substantially higher risk of premature mortality, including deaths due to heart disease, and hospitalizations due to heart disease among young adults, who had experienced adversity in childhood and adolescence.

The team says the incidence of CVD is low in early adult life but increases substantially during this period. This highlights the importance of research into non-genetic early life risk factors, which may be targeted for early prevention.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how to control your cholesterol to prevent heart attack, and 5 medicines to treat high blood pressure.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about vitamin K that could help cut heart disease risk by a third, and results showing this drug may prevent respiratory and heart damage in COVID-19.

The study was conducted by Professor Naja Hulvej Rod et al and published in the European Heart Journal.

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