Psychosocial complexity in multimorbidity: the legacy of adverse childhood experiences

21 Apr 2015

Background. To effectively meet the health care needs of multimorbid patients, the most important psychosocial factors associated with multimorbidity must be discerned. Our aim was to examine the association between self-reported adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and multimorbidity and the contribution of other social, behavioural and psychological factors to this relationship.


We analysed cross-sectional data from the Mitchelstown study, a population-based cohort recruited from a large primary care centre. ACE was measured by self-report using the Centre for Disease Control ACE questionnaire. Multimorbidity status was categorized as 0, 1 or ≥2 chronic diseases, which were ascertained by self-report of doctor diagnosis. Ordinal logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) for multimorbidity, using ACE as the independent variable with adjustment for social (education, public health cover), behavioural (smoking, exercise, diet, body mass index) and psychological factors (anxiety/depression scores). Results. Of 2047 participants, 45.3% (n = 927, 95% CI: 43.1–47.4) reported multimorbidity. ACE was reported by 28.4% (n = 248, 95% CI: 25.3–31.3%) of multimorbid participants, 21% (n = 113, 95% CI: 18.0–25.1%) of single chronic disease participants and 16% (n  =  83, 95% CI: 13.2–19.7%) of those without chronic disease. The OR for multimorbidity with any history of ACE was 1.6 (95% CI: 1.4–2.0, P < 0.001). Adjusting for social, behavioural and psychological factors only marginally ameliorated this association, OR 1.4 (95% CI: 1.1–1.7, P = 0.002).


Multimorbidity is independently associated with a history of ACEs. These findings demonstrate the psychosocial complexity associated with multimorbidity and should be used to inform health care provision in this patient cohort.

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