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Diseases » Stress » Introduction


Stress: Introduction

Stress is any situation that results in a reaction of the body called the stress response. The stress response is how the body responds to everyday challenges as well as to more threatening or dangerous situations.

The stress response is also known as the "fight or flight" response. In the stress response, the body pumps up its ability to effectively respond to threats, hardships, and adversity in order to increase its chances of survival. The stress response results in the release of cortisol, a hormone that increases blood glucose levels. The stress response also results in stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, leading to the release of catecholamines, especially epinephrine (adrenaline). Catecholamines induce vasoconstriction and increases in heart rate and blood pressure. This increases the amount of nutrients and oxygen that is available to the muscles to react to a situation during the stress response.

At the same time, the stress response temporarily suppresses body functions and systems that are not critical to improving the body's readiness to fight or flee. These include the immune system, digestion, growth and reproductive system.

The stress response effects make the mind more alert and the body better prepared to physically react to dangerous situations, such as being attacked by a mugger. However, the body responds in the same way to any stressful situation, such as financial hardships or the death of a loved one.

Having moderate amounts of short-term stress responses can be helpful in making a person more productive, effective or efficient in everyday life. These stressors, such as having an important exam or a deadline at work, do not last long, and the stress response disappears and the body goes back to normal function after they have passed. This is called acute stress.

However, chronic stress, such as that from long-term financial hardships or ongoing problems at work or with a relationship, do not give the body a chance to return to normal biological functioning. This can result in a negative impact on health and such symptoms as poor concentration, anger, depression, anxiety, rapid heart rate, palpations and muscle tightness.

Over time chronic stress can be a factor in the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For more information on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of stress.

Making a diagnosis of stress or stress-related conditions and disorders, such as heart disease, begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms and questions about the amount and types of stressors a person has. Other factors evaluated include lifestyle, dietary habits, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, symptoms of depression or anxiety, sleep patterns, and smoking/drinking habits.

A diagnosis also includes completing a physical examination, which may reveal an elevated heart rate (tachycardia) and blood pressure (hypertension).

For people who have experienced chronic stress or have risk factors or symptoms of heart disease or diabetes, diagnostic testing can include a wide variety of tests that evaluate blood sugar and the health of the heart and cardiovascular system. These include glucose blood tests and other blood tests, exercise stress testing, EKG, X-Ray, and imaging tests, such as heart scan, ultrasound and echocardiogram.

A coronary angiogram may be done in certain cases in which there is evidence of significant coronary artery disease. A coronary angiogram is an invasive procedure that reveals which coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked.

It is not unusual that a diagnosis of stress is missed or delayed because some symptoms are similar to symptoms of other diseases and disorders and for other reasons. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of stress.

Treatment of acute stress and chronic stress varies depending on the severity, the cause and other factors. A large part of treatment includes lifestyle changes. Medications may also be needed in some cases. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of stress. ...more »

Stress: Emotional stress or just "stress" is not considered a formal psychological disorder. A psychologist may categorize the condition as "general stress" or perform treatment for "general stress management", but ordinary levels of stress are not considered a valid formal psychological diagnosis.

The term "stress" usually refers to emotional or psychological stress in common usage, but may occasionally refer to physical stress from exertion or exercise, such as in medical studies of physical conditioning. ...more »

Stress: Symptoms

The immediate symptoms of stress include increased heart rate (tachycardia), high blood pressure (hypertension) and dilated pupils. Short-term acute stress can actually help a person to react more quickly, think more clearly, and be more attentive and productive.

However, ongoing stress or chronic stress can overwhelm the body and result in poor concentration, fatigue, ...more symptoms »

Stress: Treatments

The first step in treating stress is to prevent it. Prevention methods also often are used as a part of a multifaceted treatment program. There are many ways to reduce stress and minimize the long-term complications of chronic stress, such as heart disease, depression, anxiety, and type 2 diabetes. The most effective strategy is to prevent and ...more treatments »

Stress: Misdiagnosis

A diagnosis of stress and stress-related diseases or disorders may be delayed because some symptoms, such as headache, muscle tightness, and fatigue, are similar to symptoms of a wide variety of diseases and disorders. These include influenza, muscle strain, and migraine headache.

Additionally, a diagnosis of chronic stress may be delay or missed ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Stress

Treatments for Stress

Home Diagnostic Testing

Home medical testing related to Stress:

Wrongly Diagnosed with Stress?

Stress: Related Patient Stories

Stress: Deaths

Read more about Deaths and Stress.

Alternative Treatments for Stress

Alternative treatments or home remedies that have been listed in various sources as possibly beneficial for Stress may include:

Types of Stress

Stress: Complications

Review possible medical complications related to Stress:

Causes of Stress

More information about causes of Stress:

Disease Topics Related To Stress

Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Stress:

Stress: Undiagnosed Conditions

Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:

Misdiagnosis and Stress

Undiagnosed stroke leads to misdiagnosed aphasia: BBC News UK reported on a man who had been institutionalized and treated for mental illness because he more »

Dementia may be a drug interaction: A common scenario in aged care is for a patient to show mental decline to dementia. Whereas this can, of course, occur due to more »

ADHD under-diagnosed in adults: Although the over-diagnoses of ADHD in children is a well-known controversy, the reverse side related to adults. Some adults can more »

Bipolar disorder misdiagosed as various conditions by primary physicians: Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) often fails to be diagnosed correctly by primary care physicians. Many patients with more »

Eating disorders under-diagnosed in men: The typical patient with an eating disorder is female. The result is that men with eating disorders often more »

Depression undiagnosed in teenagers: Serious bouts of depression can be undiagnosed in teenagers. The "normal" moodiness of teenagers can cause severe medical depression to be overlooked. See more »

Undiagnosed anxiety disorders related to depression: Patients with depression (see symptoms of depression) may also have undiagnosed anxiety disorders (see more »

Stress: Research Doctors & Specialists

Research related physicians and medical specialists:

Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:

Hospitals & Clinics: Stress

Research quality ratings and patient safety measures for medical facilities in specialties related to Stress:

Choosing the Best Hospital: More general information, not necessarily in relation to Stress, on hospital performance and surgical care quality:

Stress: Rare Types

Rare types of diseases and disorders in related medical categories:

Research about Stress

Visit our research pages for current research about Stress treatments.

Clinical Trials for Stress

The US based website lists information on both federally and privately supported clinical trials using human volunteers.

Some of the clinical trials listed on for Stress include:

Statistics for Stress

Stress: Broader Related Topics

Stress Message Boards

Related forums and medical stories:

User Interactive Forums

Read about other experiences, ask a question about Stress, or answer someone else's question, on our message boards:

Article Excerpts about Stress

Stress can arise for a variety of reasons. Stress can be brought about by a traumatic accident, death, or emergency situation. Stress can also be a side effect of a serious illness or disease. There is also stress associated with daily life, the workplace, and family responsibilities. (Source: excerpt from Stress: NWHIC)

Definitions of Stress:

(psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense; "he suffered from fatigue and emotional tension"; "stress is a vasoconstrictor" - (Source - WordNet 2.1)


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