Stress forms an integral part of our daily life despite negative notions people have developed against it. According to Wein (2000), stress ensures that the body functions optimally particularly when responding to adverse situations. He further explains that the flight or fight response guarantees individual’s safety since the body is able to react swiftly to the changes in environmental conditions. However, chronic exposure to stress may pose adverse effects to one’s physical health.
To begin with, stress has been known to suppress immune system thereby increasing the body’s susceptibility to infections (Wein, 2000). Moreover, stress triggers the onset of heart diseases as well as high blood pressure thus subjecting an individual to health risks. Finally, stress is associated with a variety of health problems including backaches, stomachaches, pain, headaches, diarrhea, loss of sleep as well as weight gain (Wein, 2000).
Chronic exposure to stress lowers the body’s immune system thereby reducing its ability to respond to invaders such as viruses or bacteria. It is therefore important for individuals to know their stress limits in an attempt to effectively manage stress.
Health effects of stress
Psychological stress triggers the physical symptoms as well as onset of various illnesses in the body. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about ninety percent of all diseases and illnesses are stress-related (Wein, 2000). Chronic stress interferes with the normal functioning of the body systems. At the outset, chronic stress suppresses the immune system, elevates blood pressure, and increases cardiac risk as well as stroke.
Effects of stress on the immune system
When the body is subjected to stressful conditions, stress hormones such as cortisol hormones are released by the pituitary and adrenal glands so as to initiate the stress response in the body. Such response is vital since both the brain and immune system can communicate to ensure effective stress management.
However, such communication may be disrupted when one is exposed to chronic stress thereby suppressing the immune system. This would pave way for stress-related illnesses to attack the body. In such situations, stress hormones are persistently pumped into the blood thereby lowering the fighting ability of immune cells. According to Niess et al (2002), prolonged psychological stress suppresses immune system by reducing the macrophages, CD8+ lymphocytes as well as NK cells. This exposes the body to various infections.
Effects of stress on the heart
The heart functions best at certain levels of stress. However, chronic stress may lead to adverse effects on the heart performance thus posing cardiac risks. Stressors trigger cardiac events including pathophysiological changes such as myocardial infarction and ischemia, abnormalities associated with the wall motion, sudden death as well as changes in heart regulation (Soufer, 2004).
Deepa, Pradeep, & Mohan (2001) argue that when an individual is exposed to psychological stress, there is a speedy increase in blood pressure as well as heart rate following an increase in sympathetic response and plasma epinephrine. Such heightened sympathetic nerve response poses high cardiac risks as oxygen demands increases.
Heightened psychosocial stress may also aggravate myocardial ischemia (Soufer, 2004). According to Niess et al (2002), psychological stress triggers myocardial ischemia in individuals with recognized cardiovascular disease. They further assert that individuals with abnormalities in wall motion as well as negative personality traits have increased cardiac risks and even death.
Deepa, Pradeep, & Mohan (2001) argue that the development of cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction is preceded by chronic levels of psychological factors an individual is exposed to. Besides, mental stress also induces cardiovascular illnesses through vasoconstriction of the coronary vessels. Psychological stress may trigger recurrence of medical events in individuals with cardiovascular diseases.
Finally, psychological stress is also associated with induction of atherosclerosis by thickening the coronary artery (Deepa, Pradeep, & Mohan, 2001). Macleod et al (2002) argue that heightened stress affects health through neuroendocrine mechanism as well as unhealthy behavior among individuals in the population. They however, cite bias reporting as some of the reasons why such associations may not be accurate (Macleod et al, 2002).
Effects of stress on the intestinal epithelia as well as neuroendocrine system
The stress-induced interactions between the immune and the neuroendocrine systems may lead to changes in the physiologic functions of intestinal epithelium thereby stirring up relapses in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) (Niess et al, 2002). According to the scientists such occurrence is possible because stress induces the production of neuropepetides such as tachykinins well as cytokines.
The interaction between the neuronal and immune system is facilitated by the corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) that is found in the nuclei of the brain cells.
Recent studies have shown that activation of CRF receptors in the brain nuclei mediates the stress-induced intonation of gastrointestinal functions. The normal epithelial functions are hindered when the body is subjected to either acute or chronic stress. Such interruptions in the epithelial functions may lead to mucosal inflammation thereby resulting into the clinical manifestation of IBD.
It is noteworthy that stress is an important factor in our day-to-day life. Stress prepares an individual by initiating responses aimed at protecting the body against perceived threats. Such body response involving either fighting or fleeing from the danger zone guarantees the safety of an individual. However, chronic exposure to stress may be harmful to the body.
Prolonged exposure to stress suppresses immune system thereby making the body prone to infections. Such chronic stress has been associated with the development of cardiovascular illnesses including blood pressure as well as heart disease. Research shows that almost ninety percent of all diseases are stress-induced. Stress management strategies as well as stress reduction methods including relaxation, exercise and meditation are vital procedures in curbing stress-related diseases.
Deepa R., Pradeep R., Mohan V. (2001). Role of Psychological Stress in Cardiovascular Disease. Int J Diab Dev Ctries; 21:121-4. Web.
Macleod, J., Davey-Smith, G., Heslop, P., Metcalfe, C., Carroll, D., & Hart, C., (2002). Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease: Empirical demonstration of bias in a prospective observational study of Scottish men. British Medical Journal, 324(7348), 1247-1252. Web.
Niess, J., Monnikes, H., Dignass, A., Klapp, B., & Arck, P., (2002). Review of the influence of stress on immune mediators, neuropeptides and hormones with relevance for inflammatory bowel disease. Digestion: International Journal of Gastroenterology, 65(3), 131-140. Web.
Soufer, R. (2004). Neurocardiac interaction during stress-induced myocardial ischemia: How does the brain cope? Circulation, 110(13), 1710-1713. Web.
Wein, H. (2000). Stress and Disease: New Perspectives. Web.
Niess, J. H., Monnikes, H, Dignass, A. U., Klapp, B. F., & Arck, P. C. (2002). Review of the influence of stress on immune mediators, neuropeptides and hormones with relevance for inflammatory bowel disease. Digestion: International Journal of Gastroenterology, 65(3), 131-140.
Macleod, J., Davey-Smith, G., Heslop, P., Metcalfe, C., Carroll, D., & Hart, C. (2002). Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease: Empirical demonstration of bias in a prospective observational study of Scottish men. British Medical Journal, 324(7348), 1247-1252.