Childhood Abuse Linked to Adult Asthma

Asthma among black women is more likely if they suffered abuse as children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Stress from abuse as a child can affect people when they become adults. A new study found that childhood abuse can contribute to developing asthma and may trigger adult asthma as well.

New research has found that black women who were abused before age 11 had a greater likelihood of adult-onset asthma compared to women who were not abused as youngsters.

"Report child abuse ASAP."

Patricia Coogan, DSc, senior epidemiologist at Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) and associate professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, led the study. She and her colleagues followed 28,456 African-American women to see if there was a relationship between physical and sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence and the incidence of adult-onset asthma.

Investigators studied data about the women who participated in the Black Women's Health Study between 1995-2011. Participants had completed health questionnaires and provided information on physical and sexual abuse during childhood up to age 11 and adolescence, ages 12 to 18.

Physician-diagnosed asthma and use of asthma medication were reported among 1,160 participants. Scientists found the incidence of adult-onset asthma was more than 20 percent higher among women who had been abused during childhood.

The evidence was stronger for physical abuse than for sexual abuse. Researchers found little connection, however, between abuse during adolescence and the risk of adult-onset asthma.

Professor Coogan told dailyRx News, “We hypothesize that stress resulting from abuse impacts the immune system and airways during childhood in such a way that women grow up to more likely develop asthma. Or the stress continues through life and puts women at higher risk of asthma as adults.

The results suggest two things: pediatricians and clinicians should be alert to child abuse in their practice, and stress can contribute to the development of asthma. New strategies for preventing and treating asthma should involve stress management,” Professor Coogan said.

According to the authors, asthma is on the rise in the United States, affecting 8 percent of the population in 2009. Asthma cases among black women are higher compared to white women. According to the National Health Interview Survey, the number of asthma cases is 9.5% among black women compared with 8.4% among white women, and the average annual death rate is about twice as high among black women compared to white women.

Child abuse is a continuing problem in the United States. The US Department of Health and Human Service's (HHS) National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reports that in 2010 approximately 695,000 children age 0 to 17 were neglected or abused, and 22 percent of neglected or abused children were black.

The cost of child abuse is an estimated $73.8 million each year from hospitalization, according to information from the Children’s Leadership Council.

Partnership for America’s Economic Success calculates the lifetime economic costs of asthma for all people born in the year 2000 who develop asthma is $7.2 billion, including $3.2 billion in medical costs and $4 billion in work/productivity loss.

While asthma cannot currently be cured, it can be controlled through improved health care and environmental factors.

Professor Coogan and her colleagues are following up this research with studies on how racism and depression may affect asthma. The study was published online in December in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. This work was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 17, 2012
Last Updated:
December 23, 2012