Seven Diseases and Conditions Associated with Stress

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

The negative effects of stress can be seen both physically and psychologically. In this post I want to focus on just seven of the physical conditions either known or generally regarded to have stress as a primary or related cause.

High blood pressure can occur if adrenaline levels remain high. When blood vessels narrow they constrict the blood supply to various organs and this has consequences. Restriction of blood to the kidneys, for example, leads to the production of a hormone that increases blood pressure further. The liver meanwhile produces more cholesterol and other fats that merely collects in blood vessels if not used up.

Gastric upsets in the form of inflammation or possibly ulcers occur as a result of stomach acid production. Long term the muscles around the bowel may spasm leading to painful irregular bowel movements, constipation and diarrhea, a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome.

The immune system is affected because the stress hormone cortisol has anti-inflammatory properties. This is good for dealing with injuries but it also has the effect of down-regulating the immune system. The long-term result of this is we become more vulnerable to infections.

Cancer, or rather some cancers, also seems to be influenced by stress. It's not uncommon to find cancer cells in the body but a robust immune system deals with this as a matter of course. Chronic stress may lead to a higher incidence of stress and for people who have cancer it seems stress influences tolerance to treatment and recovery.

Muscle tension. Stress manifests itself through anything from jaw tightening, teeth clamping and frowning, to hunched shoulders, neck and backache. It can result in anything from headaches to repetitive strain injury. It's good therefore to consciously relax your muscles a few times a day and give your body a good shake down.

Sex hormones are affected by stress. Anyone suffering from stress knows how it interferes with his or her sex drive. In men it may influence the ability to achieve or maintain an erection. In women, periods may become irregular or lost altogether.

Type 2 diabetes isn't something you might have associated with stress but here's how it works. Raised levels of cortisol result in an increase of fats and glucose into the bloodstream. The pancreas responds by producing more insulin to try and control glucose levels. Over time the liver builds a resistance to insulin and sugar builds up in the blood and tissues. This is type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes that is avoidable, and is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of