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Stress & Acute Diseases

This section describes how acute stress can impact the different biological systems of the human body.

Effects in the Brain

Following a threat, the part of the brain called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system triggers the production and release of steroid hormones (glucocorticoids), including cortisol - the primary stress hormone. Cortisol affects systems throughout the body. Catecholamines also activate an area inside the brain, which apparently triggers an emotional response to a stressful event and also signals, the brain - to store the emotionally loaded experience in long-term memory.
During a stressful event, catecholamines also suppress activity in areas at the front of the brain concerned with short-term memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. This sequence of mental events allows a person to react quickly - either to fight or to flee - in emergency situations; however, this also hinders a person's ability to handle complex social or intellectual tasks and behaviors

The Effects on the Heart, Lungs, and Blood Circulation

The heart rate and blood pressure increase instantaneously in response to stressful situations. Breathing becomes rapid and the lungs take in more oxygen. Blood flow may actually increase 200% to 300%, priming the muscles, lungs, and brain for added demands. The spleen discharges red and white blood cells, allowing the blood to transport more oxygen.

The Effects in the Mouth and Throat

During stress, fluids are diverted from the mouth, causing dryness and difficulty in talking. In addition, stress can cause spasms of the throat muscles, making it difficult to swallow and also to fight infection. In some cases there is APHASIA where the patient can not talk or shout.

The Lungs & Respiratory system

Respiratory disorders like Asthma, Vasomotor Rhinitis and Hay fever are psycosomatic in nature.
1) Asthma -
The lungs may go in severe spasm in cases of patients suffering from allergic respiratory disease causing acute breathlessness. This may happen in response to acute anxiety or stress. Because of acute stress the autoimmune mechanism of the body gets activated resulting in bronchospasm in the lung alveoli to prevent the entry of the allergen in the system.
2) Vasomotor Rhinitis -
This is characterized by paroxysmal attacks of sneezing and nasal blockage.
3) Hay Fever -
It is seasonal and related with the amount of circulating pollen and chacterized by an allergic reaction to pollen by the nasal mucus membrane, conjunctiva, and mucous membrane of the pharynx and upper respiratory tract.

Effects on the Skin

Emotional states can effect the following
1) Control of vascularity of the skin
2) Control of sebaceous gland secretion
3) Control of sweat
4) Influencing of the degree of exudation
5) Influencing of the tendency of pruritis

Stress commonly results in cool, clammy sweaty skin and in a tightening of the scalp that makes the hair seem to stand on end. The skin is cool because blood flow is diverted away so it can support the heart and muscle tissues. As a result, physical capacity is increased and blood loss is reduced in the event of injury.
Urticaria with characteristic wheals and intense itching also has emotional factors as one of its cause.

Effects on Metabolism

Stress depresses digestive activity, a less essential body function during short-term periods of physical exertion or crisis.

Effects on gastrointestinal system

Excessive production of digestive acids in the stomach (hyperacidity) may cause a painful burning in the epigastric region and behind the sternum.

Anorexia Nervosa
It is a disorder usaually associated with a emotional conflict and characterized with reduced food intake leading to weight loss.

The Effects on the Immune System

The immediate effect of stress is to dampen parts of the immune system. Certain factors in the immune system - including important white blood cells - are redistributed to potentially critical areas. In the case of stress, these immune-boosting troops are sent to the body parts where injury or infection is most likely, such as the skin, the bone marrow, and the lymph nodes.

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