Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Illness Caused by Stress

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Illness Caused by Stress

Some argue that stress is the most lethal killer of our day; it is an unavoidable aspect of our modern life, and there is no way to eliminate it entirely. However, it is critical to understand that stress is physically damaging and can cause serious illness. To better understand the relationship between stress and illness in psychology, let us look at the interaction between stress and our immune system, as well as some studies on stress-related illnesses.

Our immune system is a complex combination of cells and proteins that flow through the bloodstream. It defends our body against bacteria and diseases caused by external and internal stressors.

External stressors can be described as something that happens in your environment, such as stressful work deadlines or injuries.

Internal stressors come from within us and are usually based on how we evaluate ourselves and our belief system, such as anxiety or depression due to low self-esteem.

Tidbit: Stressors are psychological (internal) and physiological (external) stimuli that threaten a person’s well-being.

Illness Caused by Stress Role of stress in illness StudySmarter

Role of stress in illness, Pixabay

Our immune system is a defence mechanism that fights any stressor by using the memory of the germs it has previously fought. Suppose the immune system does not work efficiently. In that case, our body can become susceptible to many foreign infections and diseases, such as heart attacks due to high cholesterol and fluctuating blood pressure due to chronic stress.

This article will examine the relationship between stress and immune system and list some common types of illnesses caused by stress.

The relationship between stress and the immune system

Our immune system contains white blood cells that are mainly responsible for fighting antigens (bacteria) in our body. They target foreign bodies (viruses) by producing antibodies and accumulating around the virus to destroy it. There are two types of white blood cells:

  • Phagocytes.

  • Two types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells:

    • B cells produce antibodies in the body’s fluids that destroy bacterial bodies.

    • T cells accumulate over the cell containing bacteria and destroy the bacterial bodies in the cell).

Stress can reduce the effectiveness of our white blood cells and make us susceptible to various infections. For example, the increase in corticosteroid hormone (stress hormone) decreases the number of lymphocytes. Stress can also indirectly affect our immune system, as some people resort to unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking to relieve their stress.

Illness Caused by Stress Bacteria flowing with the red blood cells flowing in the bloodstream StudySmarter

Bacteria flowing with the red blood cells in the bloodstream, Pixabay

What are the types of illnesses caused by stress?

Does stress play a role in physical illness? It certainly does. Stress can affect the circulatory system, such as high heart rate or high blood pressure, and the immune system. Stress-related diseases include headaches and infections such as:

  • Infectious illness (flu) and fever.

  • Asthma.

  • Cardiovascular diseases, e.g., coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke.

  • Gastric ulcers.

  • Immunosuppression.

  • Diabetes.

This article discusses how stress is related to cardiovascular problems and immunosuppression.

Role of stress in immunosuppression

Stress can reduce the efficiency of our immune system and make us vulnerable to serious illnesses. Stress increases cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline, which affects the production of white blood cells (e.g., lymphocytes) in our body and suppresses the immune system. As a result, the strength of our immune system (white blood cells) decreases, as does our ability to fight invading bacteria.

Evidence for immunosuppression

  • Kiecolt-Glazer et al. (1984) studied the effects of chronic stress on our immune system. This research involved measuring students’ stress before and during their exams and determining the activity of their NK (natural killer) cells.
  • Blood samples were taken from 75 medical students one month before their final exam (low-stress level) and on the first day of their final exam (high-stress level).
  • The study measured the activity of the T cells (lymphocytes) of the immune system in the blood.
  • Students also had to complete a questionnaire to measure their psychological states, such as loneliness or life events.

Findings: T cells were higher in blood samples taken one month before the study, while they were low in blood samples taken during the study. NK cell activity decreased significantly from the first to the second sample, and those with high levels of stress from life events and loneliness had lower NK activity levels.

  • The immune system response was low in students who suffered from loneliness.

  • Immune system response was also low in students who suffered from a life event such as depression or anxiety.

Conclusion: stress (exam) reduces the activity of our immune system (which fights disease in the body), making us vulnerable to illnesses.

Evaluation of the role of stress in immunosuppression

⍆ Stress is associated with a weak immune system. Pereira et al. (2003) found that HIV-positive women and experienced stressful events (which suppressed their immune system) suffered from precancerous cervical ulcers. In comparison, HIV-positive women and experienced few stressful events had a meagre rate of such ulcers.

⇀ Stress can also have beneficial effects on our immune system. Evan et al. (1984) found that the immune system can be more efficient during short-term (acute) stress and less efficient during long-term (chronic) stress. The researchers measured the level of antibody (slgA) in the students. This antibody is responsible for fighting infections in our bodies. Researchers then measured students’ antibody levels after exposure to stressful stimuli (which increased their levels). They found that the antibody levels (slgA) were low during the studies, which lasted a few weeks.

Role of stress in cardiovascular diseases

Stress leads to high cholesterol levels in the body via the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline by the sympathetic branch (SNS) of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The cholesterol particles cause clots in the blood and the heart’s walls. As a result, high blood pressure and heart rate can ensue. High adrenaline levels can have the following effects:

  • The heart has to pump harder due to an increased heart rate.

  • Shrinkage of blood vessels increases blood pressure, causing them to wear out gradually.

  • Increased blood pressure can unhinge the plagues formed on the walls of the blood vessels, causing blockage of the arteries that lead to a heart attack.

Tidbit: The autonomic nervous system also controls the body’s fight or flight system. It is mainly responsible for regulating bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing rate, urination, digestion, sexual arousal, pupillary response, etc.

According to Holmes (2004), high blood pressure causes small lesions to form on the walls of the arteries. Cholesterol particles can get trapped in these lesions, later leading to heart attacks and other diseases.

Illness Caused by Stress A person showing symptoms of a heart attack StudySmarter

A person showing symptoms of a heart attack, Pixabay

Evidence of the role of stress in cardiovascular illness

  • Study 1: William et al. (2000)investigated whether anger is related to heart disease because anger activates the SNS similar to stress. 13,000 participants underwent a 10-question anger scale that included some of the following questions:
    • Whether they felt like hitting another person when they were angry.

    • Whether or not they considered themselves to be hot-headed.

    • If they felt angry because they were not recognised for doing something good.

Findings: None of the participants had a heart attack at the beginning of the study. However, when the participants were examined after six years, the following results emerged:

  • About 256 participants had already suffered a heart attack.

  • The remaining participants who had high scores on the anger scale had a higher risk of having a heart attack than participants with lower scores on the anger scale.

  • 35% of participants with moderate scores on the anger scale had a higher risk of suffering a heart attack compared with participants with lower scores on the anger scale.

Conclusion: William et al. (2000) suggest that increased SNS is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease.

  • Study 2: Wilbert-Lampen et al. (2008) investigated the effects of short-term stress on cardiovascular disease. For this purpose, they observed how often people suffered a heart attack during the 1996 football World Cup in Germany.

Findings: 2.66% of cardiac emergencies were reported when Germany played the football match, compared with days when Germany did not play.

Conclusion: Short-term stress associated with watching your team play may also trigger cardiovascular disease.

Evaluation of the role of stress in cardiovascular disease

⍆ Research shows that stress is associated with cardiovascular disease. Shepp et al. (2000) found that people with heart failure under psychological stress had a high risk of death.

⇀ Individual differences may play a role in the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. Rozanski et al. (1999) found that some people were more responsive to stress with high blood pressure and heart rate compared with others. Some people had a more responsive sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

Illness Caused by Stress - Key takeaways

  • Stress causes cardiovascular diseases and immunosuppression.

  • Our immune system contains white blood cells, mainly responsible for fighting antigens (bacteria) in our body.

  • Stress can indirectly affect our immune system, as some people resort to unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking to relieve their stress.

  • There are two types of white blood cells: phagocytes and lymphocytes.

  • Stress leads to an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline, which affect the production of white blood cells such as lymphocytes in our body and suppress the immune system.

Frequently Asked Questions about Illness Caused by Stress

Stress plays a significant role in physical health as it can cause an imbalance in the functions of our body. For example, long-term stress can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can cause cardiovascular diseases. However, short-term stress might be healthy for our body and help us improve our immune system by increasing its strength of fighting bacteria in our body.

Stress increases cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline that affects the production of white blood cells, such as lymphocytes in our body, suppressing the immune system.

People tend to have many emotional symptoms when stressed, but most of them vary because of individual differences. However, some common symptoms are:


  • Headaches or migraine.

  • Back and shoulder pain.

  • Chest pain.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Mood swings.

Final Illness Caused by Stress Quiz

Question

What is an immune system?

Show answer

Answer

Our immune system is a complex combination of cells and proteins that flow through the bloodstream.

Show question

Question

What is the role of our immune system in our body?

Show answer

Answer

It defends our body against bacteria and diseases caused by external (physiological) and internal (psychological) stressors.

Show question

Question

How are internal and external stressors explained in the text?

Show answer

Answer

External stressors can be described as something that happens in your environment, such as stressful work deadlines or injuries. Internal stressors come from within us and are usually based on how we evaluate ourselves and our belief system, such as anxiety or depression due to low self-esteem.

Show question

Question

Explain the role of white blood cells in fighting antigens (bacteria) in our body.

Show answer

Answer

They target foreign bodies (viruses) by producing antibodies and accumulating around the virus to destroy it.

Show question

Question

What are the two types of white blood cells?

Show answer

Answer

There are two types of white blood cells:

  • Phagocytes.
  • Two types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells:
    • B cells produce antibodies in the body's fluids that destroy bacterial bodies.
    • T cells accumulate over the cell containing bacteria and destroy the bacterial bodies in the cell).

Show question

Question

Outline the study that verified the role of stress in cardiovascular disease.

Show answer

Answer

Research shows that stress is associated with cardiovascular disease. Shepp et al. (2000) found that people with heart failure under psychological stress had a high risk of death.

Show question

Question

Elaborate on the research about the positive effect of stress on our immune system.

Show answer

Answer

Stress can have positive effects on our immune system. Evan et al. (1984) found that the immune system can have improved efficiency during short-term stress and decreased efficiency during long-term or chronic stress. Researchers investigated it by measuring the levels of antibody (slgA) in the students.

Show question

Question

What is the function of the autonomic nervous system?

Show answer

Answer

The autonomic nervous system also controls the body's fight or flight system. It is mainly responsible for regulating bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing rate, urination, digestion, sexual arousal, pupillary response, etc.

Show question

Question

What are the side effects of a high adrenaline level the sympathetic branch of (ANS) produces in the body?

Show answer

Answer

High adrenaline levels can have the following effects:

  • The heart has to pump harder due to an increased heart rate.
  • Shrinkage of blood vessels increases blood pressure, causing them to wear out gradually.
  • Increased blood pressure can unhinge the plagues formed on the walls of the blood vessels, causing blockage of the arteries that lead to a heart attack.

Show question

Question

Which research supported the role of stress in cardiovascular disease?

Show answer

Answer

Holmes (2004) found that high blood pressure causes small lesions to form on the walls of the arteries. Cholesterol particles can get trapped in these lesions, later leading to heart attacks and other diseases.

Show question

Question

What were the findings and conclusion of the study on cardiovascular disease by William et al. (2000)?

Show answer

Answer

Findings: None of the participants had a heart attack at the beginning of the study. However, when the participants were examined after six years, the following results emerged:

  • About 256 participants had already suffered a heart attack.
  • The remaining participants who had high scores on the anger scale had a higher risk of having a heart attack than participants with lower scores on the anger scale.
  • 35% of participants with moderate scores on the anger scale had a higher risk of suffering a heart attack compared with participants with lower scores on the anger scale.

Conclusion: William et al. (2000) suggest that increased SNS is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease.

Show question

Question

How does stress affect the levels of the white blood cells?

Show answer

Answer

Stress can reduce the efficiency of our immune system and make us vulnerable to serious illnesses. Stress increases cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline, which affects the production of white blood cells (e.g., lymphocytes) in our body and suppresses the immune system.

Show question

Question

Define stressors.

Show answer

Answer

Stressors are psychological (internal) and physiological (external) stimuli that threaten a person's well-being.

Show question

Question

Stress leads to high ________ in the body via the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Show answer

Answer

Cholesterol levels.

Show question

Question

What findings and conclusions were drawn from the study on immunosuppression by Kieclot Glazer et al (1984)?

Show answer

Answer

Findings: T cells were higher in blood samples taken one month before the study, while they were low in blood samples taken during the study. NK cell activity decreased significantly from the first to the second sample, and those with high levels of stress from life events and loneliness had lower NK activity levels.

  • The immune system response was low in students who suffered from loneliness.
  • Immune system response was also low in students who suffered from a life event such as depression or anxiety.

Conclusion: stress (exam) reduces the activity of our immune system (which fights disease in the body), making us vulnerable to illnesses.

Show question

Question

Who outlined the role of individual differences in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease?

Show answer

Answer

Individual differences may play a role in the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. Rozanski et al. (1999) found that some people were more responsive to stress with high blood pressure and heart rate compared with others. Some people had a more responsive sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

Show question

Question

Something that happens in your environment, such as stressful work deadlines, is best described as which type of stressor? 

Show answer

Answer

External stressor

Show question

Question

Things that come from within us and are usually based on how we evaluate ourselves and our belief system (such as anxiety or depression due to low self-esteem) are best described as which type of stressor? 


Show answer

Answer

Internal stressor

Show question

Question

These blood cells produce antibodies in the body’s fluids that destroy bacterial bodies.

Show answer

Answer

B cells

Show question

Question

These blood cells accumulate over the cell containing bacteria and destroy the bacterial bodies in the cell. 


Show answer

Answer

T cells

Show question

Question

Stress increases these two things, which affects the production of white blood cells in our body and suppresses the immune system. 

Show answer

Answer

Cortisol and adrenaline

Show question

Question

Which of the following is referred to as the "stress hormone?"

Show answer

Answer

Cortisol

Show question

Question

What are some of the stress-related infections covered in the text? 

Show answer

Answer

Infectious illness (flu),  asthma, cardiovascular diseases, gastric ulcers, immunosuppression, and diabetes.

Show question

Question

How can stress indirectly affect our immune system? 

Show answer

Answer

Some people resort to unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking to relieve their stress.


Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Illness Caused by Stress quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.