Idaho AAP

Toxic Stress

We all will be hearing more about toxic stress in the future. This topic is one of the AAP's strategic initiatives on the national level. It should come as no surprise that adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) such as child abuse, neglect, or living with parents with drug or alcohol abuse causes stress, the hormone-mediated flight-or-fight response that we all know about. However because the ACEs are usually chronic in nature, the stress response from ACE's is never turned off. This prolonged "toxic" stress, especially when experienced in the first several years of life, has been shown to cause observable changes in brain structure and function, as well as epigenetic changes in a child's DNA. The effects not only cause childhood problems such as poor impulse control, emotional dysregulation and developmental delays, but it also has been linked to adult diseases such as heart and lung disease.

Pediatricians practice preventative health very well; the hope is that advancements in our understanding of toxic stress will help us improve our practice of preventative mental health.

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