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Stress & Chronic Diseases

Even in the modern world, the stress response can be an asset for raising levels of performance during critical events such as a sports activity, an important meeting, or in situations of actual danger or crisis. This is called as positive stress or good stress. But if the acute event is traumatic, if the body has an inefficient relaxation response, or if stress factors accumulate over time, all parts of the body like brain, heart, lungs, vessels, and muscles - become chronically over - or under activated, causing physical or psychological damage.

Psychological Effects

Stress diminishes the quality of life by reducing feelings of pleasure and satisfaction Relationships are often threatened, and there is always the danger that chronic stress might develop into more serious psychological problems, such as an anxiety disorder or depression. One study suggested that stress is responsible for an increased incidence of death in widows. Suicide, accidents, or alcohol-related events were likely causes of death in these cases; men were more at risk as compared to women.

Memory & Concentration

Patients may have loss of concentration at work and at home and may become inefficient and accident-prone. Stress may play an even more important role than simple aging. If stress is chronic or extremely severe, memory loss may become permanent. Very severe and acute stress that causes post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with physical changes in the brain.

Susceptibility to Diseases

A number of studies have shown that people under chronic stress have low white blood cell counts and are vulnerable to allergic colds. In some studies, stress that had the most negative impact on resistance to infection was from interpersonal conflicts. Recent research even suggests that stress may actually be a cause of diseases such as eczema, headaches, asthma, and sinus problems.

While there is no evidence that stress causes cancer, there is some data to support the belief that emotional states influence the progression or regression of various diseases.

Heart Disease

Mental stress is as important a trigger for angina and serious cardiac events-such as heart attacks. Incidents of acute stress often precede sudden heart-related deaths.

Stress can affect the heart in several ways

Sudden stress increases the pumping action and rate of the heart and causes the arteries to constrict, thereby posing a risk for blocking blood flow to the heart. The combination of these factors also increases the risk for disturbances in cardiac rhythm.
Stress causes blood to become stickier increasing the possibility of an arterial blood clot.
Stress may signal the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising blood-cholesterol levels, at least temporarily.
In women, chronic stress may reduce estrogen levels, which are important for cardiac health.
Sudden increases in blood pressure caused by mental stress may damage the inner lining of blood vessels, contributing to atherosclerosis.
Also increased blood levels of the adrenaline and endothelin-chemicals are known to constrict blood vessels causing high blood pressure.


In some people prolonged or frequent mental stress causes an exaggerated increase in blood pressure. This causes thickening of the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the front, half of the brain. Blockage and injury in these arteries are primary causes of stroke.

Digestion Problems

Prolonged stress can disturb the digestive system, irritating the large intestine and causing diarrhoea, constipation, cramping, and bloating.
Another digestive condition, irritable bowel syndrome does appear to be strongly related to stress.
In this condition, the large intestine becomes irritated, and its muscular contractions are spastic rather than smooth and wave like. The abdomen is bloated and the patient experiences cramping and alternating periods of constipation and diarrhoea.

Weight Problems

Stress can have varying effects on body weight. Some people suffer a loss of appetite and lose weight. Others, however, develop cravings for salt, fat, and sugar to counteract tension and, thus, may gain weight. People under stress who respond in this way are at particular risk for diabetes and heart problems.


Chronic stress has been associated with the development of insulin-resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to use insulin effectively to regulate blood sugar. Insulin-resistance is a primary factor in diabetes.

Musculoskeletal Joints

Chronic pain caused by arthritis and other conditions may be intensified by stress. Stress also causes muscle contraction headache, during which the pain is usually felt in the forehead, the back of the head and neck, or both regions.
Soreness in the shoulder or neck is common. Tension headaches can last minutes to days and may occur daily in chronic headache condition. (Migraine headaches)
Fibrisitis and muscular rheumatism are also psychosomatic in nature.

Sleep Disturbances

The tensions of unsolved stress, however, frequently cause insomnia, generally keeping the stressed person awake or causing awakening in the middle of the night or early morning.

Sexual and Reproductive Abnormalities

Stress can lead to diminish sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm. Men may experience erection dysfunction.
Women may develop menstrual irregularities, and stress may even affect fertility. Stress hormones also have an impact on the reproductive hormones. Severely elevated cortisol levels can even shut down menstruation.
Maternal stress during pregnancy has been linked to a 50% higher risk for miscarriage. It is also associated with lower birth weights and increased incidence of premature births - both of which are risk factors for infant mortality.
Stress may also cause physiologic alterations, unhealthy behavior - bad diet and sedentary habits - that can harm the developing fetus.

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