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Emotional Stress during Childhood ups Heart Disease Risk in Middle-Age

Update Date: Feb 04, 2013 02:51 AM EST
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Researchers at Cornell University looked at statistics from 3,142 American counties from 2005 to 2009 and found that income inequality increases the risk of child maltreatment. (Photo : REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Heart disease may not just be a result of a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. In some cases, people are prone to developing heart disease because of underlying emotional trauma or failing to deal with certain emotions like anger and frustration. According to a new study, people with emotional problems during early childhood, especially women, may be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases during middle age. 

The study involved 377 adults who were part of the Collaborative Perinatal Project participants, a U.S. cohort of pregnant women enrolled in 1959-1966. At age 7, these people were assessed for their emotional behaviour, reported BBC Health.

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Researchers conducted a follow-up study with the group and examined their risk for cardiovascular diseases. They found that women who had emotional problems at age 7 had more than 30 percent risk of having a cardiovascular disease during middle age.

Emotional distress, including anger and frustration, increased risk for heart disease in men by 17 percent.

Researchers found that positive emotional behavior like a good attention span was associated with good heart health in later years, for both men and women.

"We know that persistent distress can cause dysregulation of the stress response and that is something we want to look at," said Dr. Allison Appleton, lead author of the study, BBC reports. Appleton added that more research in the field is required to provide a better understanding of emotional stress leaving long-term effects on health.

Previous work, mainly on abuse during childhood, has shown that abuse can cause several chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Effects of trauma faced in childhood stays in later life due to the changes in immune response and increased levels of stress factors. In women, child abuse can lead to early or late menarche. The present study shows that even emotional problems faced by the child can have a significant effect on health later in life.

The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Experts say that teaching kids how to deal with emotional problems can lower the risk of future health problems.

"There are positive steps parents can take to protect their child's future heart health," Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told BBC. "What we learn when we're young can often set the tone for our habits later in life, so teaching children about physical activity and a balanced diet is a great place to start."

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