How Does Stress Cause Illness?

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How Does Stress Cause Illness? Vocabulary: Immune system - system that protects the body from viruses, diseases, etc. White blood cells or Leucocytes - cells found in the immune system which fights the diseases. Antigens - foreign bodies e.g. viruses Antibodies - kills antigens Suppress - put an end on the activity of or existence of; hold back Immunosuppressive effects - something that suppresses the immune system Endorphins - hormones which are body's natural painkillers Pathogens - agents causing physical illness Stress is said to increase the chance of someone becoming ill and there are two major ways in which stress can cause illness: * Directly = by reducing the body's ability to fight illness. * Indirectly = by leading the stressed individual to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle e.g. increased smoking and drinking Direct effects of stress on the immune system This system acts like an army, identifying and killing any intruders to the body.


* Kiecolt - Glaser et at. (1984) carried out a study oh human responses to stress by using a naturally occurring situation - examinations. This involved blood samples from 75 voluntary medical students (49 males and 26 females). The samples were taken one month before their final examinations (the baseline sample) and again on the first of their final examination, after the students had completes two of their exams wherein the students' stress levels should be at their peak. The students were also assessed using behavioural measures. They were given questionnaires to assess psychiatric symptoms, loneliness and life events. After this study Kiecolt - Glaser et al ended with two key findings; one was that stress was associated with a lowered immune response in humans. The second was that there were a number of different sources of stress and factors that moderate it. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) * The field of research that investigates the link between stress and other psychological states.


Another reason is that the immune system is very complex, and so the quality of an individual's immune system is hard to access. Indirect effects of stress on the immune system: Lifestyle Stress may cause illness indirectly through aspects of a person's lifestyle, such as alcohol consumption, smoking. In technical terms, stressed individuals may be more likely to expose themselves to pathogens. For example, adults are more likely to resume smoking having given up when they experienced a high level of stress in their lives ( Carey et al, 1993 ). Increased in alcohol consumption is caused by anxiety, fear, or depression and is used to reduce the level of tension. The effects of stress in the form of negative life events was tested by Brown 1991. He compared students who were high in physical fitness and those in low physical fitness. The end result was that stress almost trebled the number of visits by the unfit students, but had little effect on visits made by those who were physically fit.

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