The Link between Childhood Trauma and Heart Disease

  • Early life stress (ELS) can overwhelm an individual’s capacity to adapt to a stressor, thus leading to harmful effects on the cardiovascular system in adulthood. Cohort studies have demonstrated a strong link between ELS experiences and cardiovascular disease.

  • Toxic stress defined as “the excessive or prolonged activation of physiologic stress response systems in the absence of buffering protection afforded by stable responsive relationships” includes poverty, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, neighborhood violence, or the substance abuse or mental illness of a caregiver.

  • Maternal separation (MatSep) is a well-established animal model of ELS and provides a paradigm to test the correlation between ELS and cardiovascular disease

  • Among the mechanisms contributing to ELS-induced cardiovascular dysfunction, this review outlines the central nervous system (CNS); the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis; and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) and the immune system.

  • We conclude that ELS emerges as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This review reveals the need for further investigation in the ELS-induced mechanisms underlying future risk of premature CVD morbidity and mortality.


. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 Mar 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC5250589
PMID: 27450581

Developmental origins of cardiovascular disease: impact of early life stress in humans and rodents

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