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In an abstract way you know that your work stress can’t be beneficial to your health – but do you how many medical conditions are linked to excessive stress?

Not sure? Well here’s a short list of 33 stress linked medical conditions. Read on to see if your stress load might already be affecting your health and consider while you’re at it if whatever it is that causes you such stress is worth compromising your health over.

33 Stress Linked Mental and Physical Health Conditions

1. Heart attacks – acute stress can trigger heart attack in susceptible people

2. High blood pressure

3. Arrhythmia – acute mental stress can cause arrhythmia

4. Atherosclerosis

5. Obesity – stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol and elevated cortisol levels lead to increased belly fat storage. Retaining too much belly fat increases your risk factors for cardiovascular disease (more so than fat stored in other areas of the body). Stress may also prompt ‘comfort eating’

6. Reduced immune function – more likely to get colds etc. as well as more serious infections

7. Worsened GERD or peptic ulcer

8. Worsened IBS

9. Alzheimer’s disease – in animal model studies, stress is shown to accelerate the progression of brain lesions.

10. Headaches – stress is a very common cause of headache and the way we tend to tense up muscles when stressed will exacerbate an existing headache

11. Diabetes – stress worsens diabetes by increasing glucose levels. The adrenaline and cortisol release during a moment of stress also cause the release of a burst of glucose in the blood – for instant energy in a moment of crisis.  It may also cause people to engage in other behaviors which worsen diabetes, such as drinking or eating to excess.1

12. Asthma – stress can lead to shortness of breath which can trigger asthma. Stress may also lead to immunocompromise which can worsen or even cause asthma. 2

13. Sleep problems (insomnia) – Stress can cause hyperarousal and this can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep and it can affect the overall quality of any sleep that you do manage to get3

14. Depression – Chronic stress is linked with depression in a number of ways. It can cause reduced levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin and elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and this can result in a disruption of the regulation of everything from mood, to sleep to energy. Chronic stress can also lead to the adoption of lifestyles, like drinking alcohol to excess, which also increase the risk of depression and other mental illnesses. 4

15. Anxiety

16. Muscle tension and pain – Usually in the shoulder, neck and head regions5

17. Chest pain

18. Fatigue

19. An increased likelihood of substance abuse and tobacco use

20. A worsening of preexisting skin conditions, like eczema6

21. Memory problems – In times of stress the body secretes the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with the functioning of neurotransmitters normally used to retrieve memories (which is why your mind can sometimes go blank in very stressful situations) and it also depletes the brain of glucose (the glucose is sent to the body to ready a fight or flight reaction.) This depletion of glucose in the hippocampus impairs the formation of new memories. Excessive cortisol in the brain over a long period of time is also linked to the degeneration of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.7

22. Trichotillomania – pulling out hair or picking at skin

23. Hair loss/baldness – Stress can cause two types of hair loss: alopecia areata and telogen effluvium. The good news though is that stress-caused hair loss isn’t necessarily permanent, and if you can reduce the stress in your life you might even see hair re-growth in bald areas.8

24. Worsened acne

25. Psoriasis

26. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

27. Painful menstruation

28. Erectile dysfunction

29. Fertility problems

30. Lower back pain9

31. Worsened rheumatoid arthritis – Stress may increase the perception of arthritis pain10

32. Nausea and Diarrhea

33. Increased Incidences of Herpes outbreaks – research shows that for infected people, prolonged elevated stress is associated more frequent outbreaks. Occasional acute stress is not11

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Page last updated Jul 05, 2012

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