Introduction: A mounting body of literature emphasizes the potential negative effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on both mental and physical health throughout life, including an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Since CVD is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide, it is of great importance to advance our understanding of the effects of on CVD. This holds both for the actual incidence and for intermediate biological pathways that may convey CVD risk, such as imbalance in autonomic nervous system regulation, resulting in a chronically heightened sympathetic activity and lowered reactivity. In a large urban, multi-ethnic population-based cohort study we investigated whether there is an association between child maltreatment, CVD incidence and autonomic regulation. Methods: Within the Health in an Urban Setting (HELIUS) study, a large, multi-ethnic population cohort study including n = 22,165 Amsterdam residents, we used logistic regression analyses to investigate the association between the number of self-reported types of child maltreatment (range 0–4), and self-reported adverse cardiovascular outcome (aCVO). Self-reported child maltreatment included emotional neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Furthermore, in a subsample (n = 10,260), mean age 44.3, we investigated associations between child maltreatment, autonomic regulation, and aCVO using linear regression analyses. Both baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) and heart rate variability (HRV) were assessed as non-invasive indices of autonomic regulation. Results: The number of endorsed child maltreatment types was significantly associated with a higher aCVO risk. The association remained significant after adjustment for demographic, socioeconomic, health-behavioral, and psychological covariates (p = 0.011, odds ratio: 1.078, confidence interval: 1.018–1.142). The cumulative exposure to child maltreatment was negatively associated with BRS and HRV, but the association was no longer significant after correction for socioeconomic and demographic covariates. Conclusion: In a large, multi-ethnic urban-population cohort study we observed a positive association between number of endorsed child maltreatment types and self-reported aCVO but not autonomic regulation, over and above the effect of relevant demographic, health, and psychological factors. Future studies should examine the potential role of the dynamics of autonomic dysregulation as potential underlying biological pathways in the association between ACEs and CVD, as this could eventually facilitate the development of preventive and therapeutic strategies for CVD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number69
JournalFrontiers in psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2020


  • adverse childhood experience
  • autonomic regulation
  • baroreflex sensitivity
  • cardiovascular disease
  • heart rate variability

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