The Preeminence of Early Life Trauma as a Risk Factor for Worsened Long-Term Health Outcomes in Women

Nils C. Westfall, Charles Nemeroff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Early life trauma (ELT) comprises an array of disturbingly common distressing experiences between conception and the beginning of adulthood with numerous and significant potential long-term, even transgenerational, health consequences of great public health concern, including depression, cardiovascular disease, and other psychiatric and medical disorders, and neurobiological, psychological, and behavioral effects which are sufficiently robust to confound many types of biomedical research. The impact of ELT on a woman’s health trajectory appears to vary with the specific characteristics of the ELT (e.g., type, number of different types, severity, and timing), the individual (e.g., age, genetics, epigenetics, personality, and cognitive factors), and the individual’s environment (e.g., level of social support and ongoing stressors) and to be mediated to a significant extent by persistent changes in a number of biological systems, dysregulation of those governing the stress response chief among them. Growing knowledge of the risk factors and pathophysiological mechanisms by which ELT confers diathesis to various poor health outcomes and the unique treatment–response profiles of women with ELT will lead to much needed improvements in prevention, diagnostic, and therapeutic efforts, including more effective psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy approaches, hopefully making strides toward improvements in the lives of women everywhere and ending countless cycles of intergenerational trauma-associated pathology. This article attempts to broadly summarize the current state of knowledge about the long-term sequelae of ELT for women’s health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number90
JournalCurrent Psychiatry Reports
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 26 2015


  • Abuse
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Risk factor
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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