Health consequences of adverse childhood experiences: A systematic review

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Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been associated with negative health outcomes, but the evidence has had limited application in primary care practice. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the research on associations between ACEs and adult health outcomes to inform nurse practitioners (NPs) in primary care practice.

Data sources:

The databases PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Social Abstracts were searched for articles published in English between 2008 and 2013 using the search term “adverse childhood experiences.” Forty-two research articles were included in the synthesis. The evidence was synthesized and is reported following the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis procedure (PRISMA).


ACEs have been associated with health consequences including physical and psychological conditions, risk behaviors, developmental disruption, and increased healthcare utilization. Generalization of the results is limited by a majority of studies (41/42) measuring childhood adversity using self-report measures.

Implications for practice:

NPs are encouraged to incorporate assessment of patients’ childhood history in routine primary care and to consider the evidence that supports a relationship between ACEs and health. Although difficult, talking about patient's childhood experiences may positively influence health outcomes.

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