9 Repercussions From Chronic Stress

Patient Expert
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Stress can offer real benefits in helping us get out of short-term emergencies.  However, if it lasts for a long time, stress can wreak havoc with your overall health, according to Dr. Robert Sapolsky, MacArthur Genius Fellow and Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Long-term stress can have life-altering side effects.


Damage to the brain

The hippocampus, which is susceptible to stress hormones, shows atrophy in in people with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Stress causes the disconnection of neuronal networks and inhibits the birth of new neurons, thus stunting your brain.



The continual secretion of glucocorticoids can suppress the secretion of normal growth hormones in children. This can result in stress dwarfism in which children are so psychologically stressed that their growth is stunted.


Faster rate of aging

Stress causes your DNA to age faster, resulting in the fraying of the ends of the chromosomes (called telomeres). Shorter telomeres have been linked with increased rates of disease as well as a shorter life span.


Increased risk of some infectious diseases

Chronic stress causes the body to lose the capability of regulating the inflammatory response. This change can result in increased inflammation levels that can encourage the development of infectious diseases as well as their progression in the body.


Increased risk of an ulcer

Chronic stress can result in a bacterial disorder in the digestive tract. This disorder along with chronic ongoing stress then can impair the body’s capacity to repair the ulcer.


Sexual dysfunction

Chronic stress can result in irregular or total loss of menstrual cycles in women while men can experience decreased testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction. Both men and women who have chronic stress may experience a loss of libido.


Adult osteoporosis

Some researchers believe that chronic stress may cause osteoporosis due to three issues. First, stress may cause physiological changes that result in this bone loss. Secondly, many people opt for poor lifestyle choices in relation to eating, drinking, exercise and sleep when under chronic stress—poor choices that cause bone deterioration.  Finally, having osteoporosis can cause anxiety, depression and isolation, which in turn can lead to more chronic stress.


Hypertension and cardiovascular disease

Chronic stress can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). This stress results in turbulence in the blood flow, which can lead to pitting and scarring of blood veins. Ultimately, these changes can lead to cardiovascular disease.


Increased risk of diabetes

Studies have shown that psychological stress during childhood or because of major life events is linked to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. Researchers have also studied people who have chronic stress – whether because of day-to-day events or major catastrophic events such as World War II or the World Trade Center attacks – and found that they have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.