Source: Flickr by Marco Verch Professional

Trauma can be a lifelong debilitating experience for many people. Whether their trauma is caused by abuse, neglect, or through having lived through shocking and horrific experiences. It really is something that can not only affect people’s mental health- but can lead to many physical health issues as well.

As the charity Mind states on its website– Trauma can lead to long-term physical or chronic illness. This has possibly been the case for me, although often medical practitioners can be slow in making the link between trauma and chronic illness.

Childhood trauma and adult physical health issues

Trauma has been studied widely- especially childhood trauma. Many studies have focused on Adverse childhood experiences ( otherwise referred to as ACEs ).

Studies, such as the 1998 Kaiser study, looked at the negative life experiences of children up to the age of 18- to see how this had then impacted their physical health in their adult life. As Healthline states:

The theory is that extreme emotional stress is a catalyst for a number of physical changes within the body.

Trauma is said to put extreme stress on our bodies, which in turn can cause :

multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults, such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and liver disease.

Other potential health conditions that can be a direct result of childhood trauma- include Fibromyalgia, frequent headaches, arthritis, and other Autoimmune diseases.

Yet medical professionals seem to concentrate on the mental fallout from childhood trauma and therefore miss the signs of the potential for serious physical health conditions.

Sometimes the mind heals but the body still gets damaged

As Onyinye Maureen Kenneth’s brilliant article says:

Some children go through mental torture because they are frequently abused…..Spending time with victims of abuse will make you realise that human varies not just in colour but also in psychological aspects. This psychological effect contributes largely to the way they live their lives.

Years of counseling, support groups, and other therapies to heal the mental damage, caused by abuse- can of course lessen the mental effect of childhood trauma. However, it is the physical scars that often come later, and are unexpected.

Yet these physical scars, which can show as a chronic illness- are just as debilitating to those who have already been through so much. Because just when you think you have gotten your life going, past the worst, WHAM physical pain hits, and your life gets disrupted once again– and you are left feeling like you are back to being the failure (that you felt before counseling).

More research is needed to link Childhood Trauma to Chronic Illness

More research is definitely needed, to wake up medical professionals to this link between Childhood trauma and chronic illness- so that chronic illness can be picked up quicker.

Also, medical professionals need to not ignore physical health symptoms- by assuming they are merely symptoms of stress and depression.

I have a complex array of chronic health conditions, ranging from an Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism) to Arthritis of the spine. Whilst my medical records do not hide the childhood trauma I suffered- no link between that and my current Chronic Illness was made, until I raised this possibility myself (having looked at the studies and having spoken to holistic medical practitioners about my history and current condition). Prior to medical professionals picking up on my Hypothyroidism- I had years of the condition being misdiagnosed, and GPs treating me for anxiety and depression.

Yes without a doubt, my thyroid condition was causing me extreme anxiety, made me feel depressed (due to the delay in diagnosis), and led to me struggling to live my life very well. It was a dark period of my life and one which I wouldn’t wish on others.

This is why it is so important that people disclose any childhood trauma to medical professionals.

They are not psychic and they can only respond to information that they have. Although it is scary and difficult to open up about childhood abuse (trauma), the consequences of keeping such a vital part of your history a secret, can be more detrimental in the long run. In the lack of medical recognition of the physical damage, this trauma has led to in later life.

Final thoughts

Although there is no going back, and no erasing the childhood trauma I suffered, and I cannot reverse the physical damage I believe this has done to my body- there is a feeling of peace from knowing that my health condition is NOT my fault. Yes, maybe my Gp, physiotherapist, and other healthcare providers could use having more understanding- but at least I can have a better understanding of why I now feel like I am old before my time (and have to manage pain daily).

It doesn’t change the reality, but It can help with the coping process of dealing with a sudden chronic illness.

Published by Karen Burns

A 50-year-old mother of 3. Graduated from Warwick University in 2021 (with a degree in Social Studies). I have chronic illness, which affects my mobility. However, I love writing and I am a prolific writer of poetry as well.

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