The cost of chronic stress in childhood: understanding and applying the concept of allostatic load

Debra A Katz, Ginny Sprang, Circe Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


This article explores the concept of allostatic load and its utility as an integrative framework for thinking about the impact of chronic stress on children and adolescents. Allostatic load refers to the failure or exhaustion of normal physiologic processes that occurs in response to severe, frequent, or chronic stressors. This persistent physiologic dysregulation may lead to secondary health problems such as immunosuppression, obesity, atherosclerosis, and hypertension. Allostatic load can be measured and followed as a composite index of a group of physiologic parameters which fall outside of a normal range. Although research regarding allostatic load in children is limited, this article explores relevant studies and identifies ways in which the concept of allostatic load can be used to broaden approaches to assessment, case formulation, and treatment in children. The concept of allostatic load may be of particular interest to psychodynamic psychiatrists in recognizing the ways in which chronic stress and adverse childhood experiences lead not only to negative psychological sequelae but also to long-term health consequences including the possibility of premature death. It underscores the importance of monitoring patients' physical as well as psychological health and thinking about the complex interrelations between the two.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-80
Number of pages12
JournalPsychodynamic Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • trauma
  • allostatic load
  • Atherosclerosis/complications
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease


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