Brain Development in Victims of Child Abuse

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Child abuse is a widespread problem in America and beyond. Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children(1a). For many years, experts believed that the negative effects of child abuse, such as emotional problems, flashbacks to traumatic events, and even learning problems, were psychological phenomena only, able to be cured with therapy. Now, however, beliefs are being changed with the help of tools such as MRI imaging, able to detect actual changes in brain anatomy, and it appears that what doesn't kill you may still permanently weaken you, at least when it comes to child abuse.

The chief danger to the brain in child abuse, besides direct injury by the abuser, is the stress placed on fragile, developing tissue. Traumatic stress placed on the brain, such as that caused by abuse, will activate the locus ceruleus, which through a release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine will cause the release of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, dopamine, and more norepinephrine (2). These neurotransmitters are called catecholamines and are complemented by glucocorticoid stress hormones such as cortisol (2). Stress hormones and neurotransmitters are necessary to the normal function of the brain, and are to some point beneficial, but unusually high levels of these chemicals caused by abuse, especially over an extended period of time, can be very harmful (3). When levels of glucocorticoid hormones are elevated for an extent of several days due to stress, the neurons receiving these hormones begin to be damaged (4). Neurons begin to atrophy and the growth of new neurons is halted (4). If the stress continues for too long, neurons will die (4). This problem is ex...

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...II, an article from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about the damaging effects of stress hormones on the developing brain

5)Developmental traumatology part II: brain development, an article detailing a study of the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder upon the brains of abused children!%20AND%20(%23UOI%23B6T4S-3WK3RV4%204)%20&_cdi=4982&_sort=d&_acct=C000018819&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=400777&md5=4e6b134b5ccc9a8bd44fd1a8d05a5eab

6) Teicher, Martin H. "Scars That Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse." Scientific American 286.3 (2002): 68-75

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