6 Conditions Associated With Stress

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  • Many people think of stress as emotional strain that affects your mood and happiness, but the physical effects of stress can be just as harmful. Understanding how stress can affect your body could help you stay healthier longer. You may not be able to get rid of all the stressors in your life, but you can learn to manage them and reduce the risk of stress-related illnesses.

  • 1
    Digestive Problems
    woman with stomach pain

    Recurring abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are signs of troubled digestion, which can be an effect of stress. The relationship between stress and your gut is a two-way street. Stress can trigger and worsen tummy issues, and vice versa. There’s an anatomical reason for the connection: the same kind of nerve cells in your brain also line your digestive tract. They lead to the production of serotonin, which keeps you calm and helps digestion. If you’re stressed out, those cells may not be activated, and your digestion can slow or even stop, causing symptoms.

  • 2
    Respiratory Disorders
    Man Having Chest Pains

    In asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), inflamed airways prevent your lungs from getting enough oxygen. Stress can increase inflammation, making your symptoms worse. Stress can also make you hyperventilate, and for someone with breathing problems, that can bring on a flare-up. Many people who have respiratory disease also have a high rate of anxiety and panic attacks, and COPD patients with higher anxiety levels tend to have more severe symptoms. Though stress does not seem to affect the way these diseases progress, it can make dealing with symptoms more difficult.

  • 3
    Headaches
    senior-male-with-hand-on-head

    Stress is one of the most common causes of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. When your body releases hormones in response to stress, it causes blood vessels to dilate (expand), which can lead to pressure and pain in your head. Stress can also make you feel tense, and tight muscles in your neck, face and shoulders can make a headache worse. People who have migraines tend to be highly emotional and react strongly to difficult events, making them vulnerable to stress.

  • 4
    Heart Disease
    Woman with chest pain

    Anxiety disorders, which are common in people with high stress levels, have been linked to the development of heart disease. Women with higher levels of anxiety are more likely to have a heart attack—and more likely to die from one—than women with lower levels of anxiety. If you have a history of panic attacks, it may triple your risk of a heart attack. The connection may be how the stress hormone cortisol encourages the development of plaque inside blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease.

  • 5
    High Blood Pressure
    Male taking blood pressure

    A stressful event can make your blood pressure skyrocket. Certain hormones surge under pressure and make your heart beat faster and your blood vessels narrow. Once the situation is over, your blood pressure should return to normal. If you experience these spikes often enough, though, it can damage your kidneys, heart, and blood vessels.

  • 6
    Inflammatory Conditions
    man-with-shoulder-pain

    Inflammation plays a part in many chronic diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. When you are stressed, your body reacts with a cascade of hormones, including cortisol. High levels of cortisol can increase inflammation and affect your immune system as well, making inflammatory conditions worse. Inflammation may also play a part in the progression of certain diseases of aging, such as frailty and a decline in function.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  8. Psychological Stress and it’s Relationship to Cytokines and Inflammatory Diseases. Northwestern University. http://sites.northwestern.edu/foundationsofhealth/files/2013/03/Psychological-Stress-and-its-relationship-to-Cytokines-and-Inflammatory-Diseases.pdf

  9. Anger, stress, dysregulation produces wear and tear on lungs. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2104758/