What factors in early life increase the risk of developing NEAD later?
These are sometimes called ‘predisposing factors’ which can include the ones listed below.
Little is known about how inherited factors can contribute to people being more or less likely to develop NEAD. However, we know that NEAD is more common in women. We also know from disorders similar to NEAD, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that there are genes which can increase the risk of developing this problem. These genes are one of the reasons why one person will develop PTSD after a particular traumatic experience, whereas another person (who has had the same experience) does not.
Around two thirds of patients with NEAD report that they have had experiences in the past which were so stressful that they could explain ongoing emotional problems. The most widely studied form of traumatic experience is sexual and physical abuse in childhood. The reported rates of sexual or physical abuse in patients with NEAD vary widely, but some studies have found that about one quarter of women with NEAD report some form of early life abuse. Men with NEAD report abuse less commonly.
Stressful experience can leave some people in a permanent state of feeling on edge (like when you are anxious in the dark and listen out for the slightest noise). Being in this state may make people more sensitive to relatively minor changes around them (like sudden noises, flashing lights or arguments going on around them).
Studies suggest that some patients with NEAD have not received the sort of emotional and physical support from their parents in their early childhood which they needed, or that their families were less communicative and more critical. People with NEAD are also more likely than people with epilepsy to have a family history of psychiatric disorders or epilepsy.
NEAD is not associated with one particular personality type. However, some people with NEAD have a tendency to experience emotions more strongly than others and to be subject to sudden changes of emotions. Other people with NEAD have unusual levels of control over their emotions and are not aware of small (but perhaps important) changes in their emotions.
Having physical health problems increases the risk of developing NEAD. The risk of developing NEAD is also higher in people with epilepsy. Illnesses like epilepsy could increase the risk of NEAD through physical changes in the brain or because they affect how people feel about themselves.
There is no typical pattern of problems with brain performance in people with NEAD, although learning problems (like dyslexia) are a risk factor for the development of NEAD, especially in children and teenagers. However, a substantial proportion of people with NEAD perform below expectation on tests of attention, memory and mental processing. Problems with brain performance do not only occur in people with physical disorders of the brain but also when people are anxious or depressed.