The effects of chronic stress on the body

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David McQuillan (2008). Otago Polytechnic

The fight or flight response is designed to combat short-term stressors. Short-term stress and recovery from stress is managed well by negative feedback cycles, because cortisol inhibits the production of cortiocosteroid-releasing hormone. (Marieb, 2004)

When a stressor is chronic, these feedback cycles are thought to break down resulting in neurotransmitter and hormonal imbalances. In the modern environment many stressors are emotional/mental in nature, and stress can become constant, having many detrimental effects.

Long-term effects of ephinephrine (adrenaline)

  • Decreased immune response
  • Altered protein & fat metabolism
  • Increased chance of high blood pressure
  • Decreased digestion
  • Inhibited tissue repair

Long-term effects of Cortisol & Glucocorticoids

  • Muscle & connective tissue wastage
  • Hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar level)
  • Suppression of the immune response
  • Suppression of healing
  • Damage to the hippocampus. In two studies Vietnam vets & women exposed to sexual abuse displayed up to 8% shrinkage of the hippocampus. It's not known if this is reversible. (Simon, 2006)

Effects of Chronic Stress on the body

Effects of chronic stress on the cardiovascular system

  • Increased strength & speed of heartbeat
  • Hypertension
    • Strain on the heart
      • Thickening & narrowing of arteries
      • Enlargement of the heart (resulting in increased work, less able to maintain proper blood flow, fatigue )
  • Hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar)
  • High cholesterol

Effects of chronic stress on the musculo-skeletal system

  • Muscular reactivity
  • Chronic muscular tension and pain
  • Migraine and tension headaches
  • Exaggeration of reflexive postural patterns
  • Bone demineralisation

Effects of chronic stress on the digestive tract

  • Gastritis
  • Stomach & duodenal ulcers
  • Stomach pain
  • Obesity
  • Colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Effects of chronic stress on the reproductive system

  • Infertility
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Impotence or premature ejaculation
  • Loss of libido

Effects of chronic stress on the urinary system

  • Bladder urgency
  • Incontinence

Effects of chronic stress on the immune system

  • Allergies
  • Increased susceptibility to illness such as common cold
  • Autoimmune conditions (Diabetes type 1, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis)

Effects of Chronic Stress on metabolism

  • Metabolic Disorder
  • Diabetes

Effects of chronic stress on the respiratory system

  • Asthma symptoms often worsen under mental or emotional stress
  • Hyperventilation
  • Breathing pattern disorder