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Keywords:

  • trauma;
  • traumatic events;
  • chronic disease;
  • arthritis;
  • physical health;
  • African Americans

Background

Potentially traumatic events (PTEs) are common in the population, yet, the impact of total burden and specific types of PTEs on physical health has not been systematically investigated.

Methods

Data were drawn from the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study, a community sample of predominately African Americans living in Detroit, Michigan, interviewed in 2008–2009 (N = 1,547) and in 2009–2010 (N = 1,054). Kaplan–Meier and Cox proportional hazards models were used.

Results

Respondents with the highest levels of PTE exposure (8+ events) had an average age of adverse physical health condition diagnosis that was 15 years earlier than respondents with no exposure. There was a monotonic relation between number of PTEs and arthritis risk. Compared to those who reported no lifetime events, respondents with 1–2, 3–4, 5–7, and 8+ traumatic events had 1.06, 1.12, 1.73, and 2.44 times the hazard of arthritis. Assaultive violence (HR = 1.7; 95% CI 1.2–2.3) and other threats to physical integrity (HR = 1.5, 95% CI 1.1–2.1) were particularly strong risk factors for arthritis.

Conclusions

These results provide novel evidence linking PTEs, particularly those involving violence and threat to life, to elevated risk for arthritic conditions. Efforts to prevent or mitigate traumatic event exposures may have a broad range of benefits for health.