Child Abuse Linked to Arthritis in Adulthood

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio - Last Updated: October 19, 2018

Childhood maltreatment may be a risk factor for arthritis as an adult, researchers have found, and the risk increases with the severity and frequency of the abuse. 

Previous research linked child abuse to adult arthritis, but the recent study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, also investigated the impact of the severity. 

Researchers analyzed data from 21,889 respondents (age ≥18 years) from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey—Mental Health (CCHS-MH). They evaluated severity and frequency of childhood physical abuse (CPA), childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and the frequency of childhood exposure to intimate partner violence (CEIPV) by asking about “things that may have happened to you before you were 16 in your school, in your neighborhood, or in your family.” They also answered questions about diagnosed chronic conditions. 

Among adults who had not been exposed to physical abuse as children, 16.8% had arthritis, compared to 31.7% of adults who said they were exposed to severe and frequent CPA. The group who was never exposed to sexual abuse had a 16.5% arthritis rate, compared to 27% among those who were exposed to CSA. The group without CEIPV reported a 16.9% arthritis rate, and of those who had more than 10 exposures, 27.2% reported arthritis. 

In adjusted analyses (age, sex, and sociodemographics), the odds ratio (OR) for those with severe and frequent CPA was 3. When adjusting for health risks and mental disorders, it was 2.5. After adjusting for other chronic physical conditions, the OR was 2. In respondents with severe CSA, the ORs in the same adjusted analyses were 1.7, 1.3, and 1.1, respectively. Among CEIPV respondents, the ORs were 2.1, 1.8, and 1.6, respectively.  

According to the study authors, the immune and metabolic abnormalities caused by the abuse could play a role in the pathogenesis of arthritis.

“The link may be due to potentially enduring immune and metabolic abnormalities caused by severe childhood abuse that are similar to those that have been suggested might play a role in the pathogenesis of arthritis,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Badley of the Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto. “The link may also be an indicator of the role joint injury has in causing osteoarthritis, by far the most frequent type of arthritis.” 

The researchers stated, “We found the greater the frequency and severity of childhood maltreatment, the greater the magnitude of association with arthritis. This might reflect the role of the enduring immune and metabolic abnormalities and chronic inflammation associated with childhood maltreatment in the etiopathogensis of osteoarthritis (OA) or be an indicator of the role of joint injury in causing OA.” 

Does childhood neglect contribute to violent behavior in adulthood? A review of possible links 

Abuse, cancer and sexual dysfunction in women: A potentially vicious cycle 

Therapeutic Interventions to Prevent and Delay Rheumatoid Arthritis Onset 

SourcesMedPage Today, Arthritis Care & ResearchWiley

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