By Kate Eller, health news, a news service from Advocate Health Care
Stress affects everyone. While it helps a person cope with tough situations in the short-term, stress can also become a chronic problem. And when stress levels are elevated for longer than necessary, it can lead to health problems.
“Stress releases the hormone cortisol as a response to fear or stress (fight-or-flight) by the adrenal glands,” says Dr. Senora Nelson, a primary care physician with Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “But if there is no active release of the stress, and the cortisol levels just continue to build up in the body, it can cause a multitude of health issues that we, as physicians, see and treat on a daily basis.”
More common symptoms of chronic stress include: higher risk for stroke or heart attack, Type 2 diabetes, overeating, under-eating, alcohol and drug abuse, social withdrawal, irritability, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Dr. Nelson says the following eight symptoms are lesser-known signs you may be completely stressed out.
- Nausea. If your diet hasn’t changed, but your stomach is frequently upset, it could be due to stress. Stress can trigger multiple digestive system issues, including vomiting, retching (dry-heaving), diarrhea, constipation, heartburn/acid reflux and flare-ups of existing ulcers. Make sure to stay hydrated with water when your digestive system is suffering.
- Loss of Sexual Desire and Reproductive Issues. Chronic stress can affect both sexes’ desire for intimacy. Women may notice changes in their menstrual cycles, from irregular to no menstruation to heavier or more painful periods. For men, their testosterone levels may drop, which can interfere with their sperm production and can cause erectile dysfunction or impotence.
- Aches and Pains. When you can’t relax, neither can your muscles. This can cause headaches, back and shoulder pain and body aches. Stress causes a person to tense their muscles for long periods of time, which can lead to pain.
- Feeling Tired. Even if you are able to get a good night’s sleep under stress, the effects of daily stress drain your body of energy.
- Excessive Sweating. While you know you may sweat more when you are nervous, routine stress can also cause more frequent sweating.
- Hair Loss. In extreme cases of stress, some people will begin to lose their hair. The more common reason for this is alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes white blood cells to attack the hair follicle.
- Memory Loss. When you are stressed, your mind does not recall information as easily. Facts and figures that you know backwards and forwards can elude you. When stressed, make sure to write important information down.
- Frequent Colds. When your body is under stress, it compromises your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to succumbing to the germs that surround you each day.
Dr. Nelson advises that people find healthy ways to manage their stress. Examples include exercise such as walking, running, yoga and tai chi; eating healthy, well-balanced meals without a lot of added sugar; meditation; and whenever possible, eliminating the source of the stress.
“It’s important that patients be versed on the signs of stress and know how to manage it before it leads to more serious health issues,” says Dr. Nelson. “If you are noticing any of these signs and symptoms of stress, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your primary care physician.”
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