Childhood Trauma Exposure Increases Long COVID Risk

Childhood Trauma Exposure Increases Long COVID Risk



Julie Messinger, Cady Ujvari, Alicia Wilhelm Villanueva Van Den Hurk


Presentation: 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Kennedy Union Ballroom

Additional authors: Noah Greenspan, Dolores Malaspina, and Xavier F. Jimenez



While long-term physical and psychological effects of COVID-19 remain unknown, it is clear that a proportion of COVID-19 survivors develop complications following acute illness, herein referred to as long COVID (LC) syndrome. Females appear to be at higher risk for LC, and also have higher rates of childhood trauma, which is associated with a heightened inflammatory response to stress. The present study investigated the impact of childhood trauma on COVID-19 illness course and recovery. Participants (N=244) completed online self-report measures of premorbid health, COVID-19 positivity, symptoms, and recovery, along with measures of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood (CTE) and recent (RTE) traumatic experiences. Compared to recovered participants (N=110), the LC group (N=158) was older and predominantly female. Those who reported one or more CTE were nearly 3-fold more likely to develop LC (OR=2.87, CI, 0.95 to 8.60) while those who endorsed two or more CTE were 4.5 times more likely (OR=4.56, CI, 1.61 to 12.33). A binary logistic regression analysis revealed that chest pain (p<.001), fatigue (p=.031), burning sensation (p=.002), and olfactory hallucinations (p<.001) during acute COVID, along with sex (p=.001) and age (p<.001) predicted LC. Compared to pre-COVID diagnoses, rates of PTSD (p<.001), depression (p<.001), and generalized anxiety (Χ2=12.32, p<.001) increased across the entire sample and current PTSD (p=.001, partial η2=.042), depression (p<.001, partial η2=.048), and anxiety (p=.017, partial η2=.022) severity were higher in the LC group. These findings suggest that childhood trauma or early adversity may prove relevant to the development of long COVID via central nervous system changes and dysfunction in the form of central sensitization, somatosensory disruptions, and/or dysautonomia, resulting from a heightened inflammatory response. Psychiatric outcomes should be assessed following acute COVID-19, and future research is needed to determine the unique contributions of COVID-19 and general pandemic stress to post-illness mental health.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Independent Research

Primary Advisor

Julie Walsh Messinger

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project, College of Arts and Sciences

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Good Health and Well-Being

Childhood Trauma Exposure Increases Long COVID Risk