When Does Stress Become a Dangerous Health Concern

Health Writer

So many of us can balance our lives, juggling work, home responsibilities, the needs of other family members and friends, thinking we are coping well with day-to-day stress quite well.   And you might think that your frequent cold or upper respiratory infection or upset stomach, are due to common viruses.   But stress can express itself in a variety of medical symptoms, and sometimes your physical health can be at great risk - especially when stress is daily, chronic or escalating in nature.   You can also express that chronic stress in a variety of destructive physical behaviors that can wreak havoc on your teeth, your skin, and even your waist size.

Behavioral manifestations of stress can include:

  • Overeating or under-eating (resulting in anorexia type behavior or obesity)
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Increased smoking
  • Picking at your skin, especially on your hands
  • Pulling out hairs
  • Gritting and grinding teeth

Your body can also have a host of reactions or manifestations that you may miss as signals of ongoing stress.   These manifestations can vary from mild annoying symptoms, to more significant symptoms that may signal that a disease process has been set in motion with possible serious outcome - unless you treat the stress.   If that occurs, you may have to also address the health condition directly, and find therapies to not only alleviate or manage the stress better - but also to treat the disease(s) that was caused.

Here is a short list of just some of those symptoms and health issues:

Neck pain, back pain, muscle spasms

Lightheadedness, fainting

Forgetfulness - disorganization - inability to retain new information

Buzzing or ringing in your ears

Nervous tics

Frequent blushing sweating, tremors

Rashes, hives


Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting

Chest pain (especially if heart disease is present), palpitations

Insomnia, nightmares

Excessive hair loss and patterns of baldness

Mouth ulcers

Menstrual irregularity

Recurrent vaginal infections

Impotence in men

Stress and anxiety can also trigger depression.   More serious disorders linked to high or chronic levels of anxiety include:

  • Heart Attacks
  • Strokes
  • Compromised immune system with increased susceptibility to infections including the common cold, herpes, AIDS
  • Possible increased risk of certain cancers
  • Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Digestive disorders like GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis
  • Parkinson's disease

If you have asthma then you know that acute stress can certainly instigate an asthma attack.   One viral infection**, shingles**, is directly linked to stress and occurs only in individuals who have a bout of chickenpox in their past medical history.   The virus actually remains dormant, and only in some cases becomes re-awakened when the person has a weakened immune system.   Certainly aging is a risk factor for shingles -but so is stress - since it lowers our immune response and may make us more vulnerable to that dormant virus.   Once shingles occurs, stress management is a bit futile, since potent anti-viral medicine and pain medicine are the two main treatments of the illness.   Certainly you do want to reduce stress so that the risk of another shingles attack is minimized.   Finally, research also shows that children under age 10 are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of stress and can suffer from frequent stomach aches, headaches, rashes, disinterest in food, asthma attacks and behavioral issues.

Obviously, the seriousness or persistence of your symptoms will typically dictate when you consult with a physician.   Most experts believe that any physical manifestation - be it mild, moderate or severe - is a "shout out" for you to seek medical help.   A component of that plan may also be psychological therapy.