| Tue, Apr 28, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

3 Health Problems That Stress May Worsen

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

health problemsOur bodies respond to stress by releasing hormones—mainly adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause our hearts to beat faster and our breath rates to increase. Blood pressure rises. We may sweat. Our mouths may go dry.

This is often called the stress response or the “fight or flight” response. It developed to help humans survive.

But the stress response is a double-edged sword.

  • It helps prepare our bodies to deal with real threats or danger, like an oncoming car. Or it may help pump us up to perform our best.
  • Ongoing emotional or psychological stress may keep the body in a constant state of “fight or flight.” This can cause problems.

Chronic stress may be especially damaging for people with certain health conditions. Let’s look at three of these.

1. Type 2 Diabetes

Having diabetes may cause stress in and of itself. This and other stressors that life brings on can get in the way of good diabetes self-care, such as taking medications and doing regular blood tests. Then blood glucose levels may go up.

That’s one way stress could affect blood glucose control.

Another way is that stress hormones may raise blood glucose levels directly. The cause of the stress may be physical, such as an injury, or mental, such as job or relationship worries.

You may want to check whether stress affects your blood glucose levels.

  • Rate your stress level: 1 (no stress) to 5 (extremely stressed).
  • Test your blood glucose.
  • Write your test result next to your stress level.

Do this each time you test your blood glucose for a week or two. Look to see if high stress levels match up with high blood glucose levels. Share your findings with your doctor.

2. Heart disease

Stress may increase your heart rate and your blood pressure. It can also cause the release of cholesterol and triglycerides into the blood stream. Sudden emotional stress may even trigger a heart attack.

Some people use unhealthy coping methods to deal with stress. For example, these might include smoking or poor eating habits leading to obesity which may indirectly increase heart risks.

3. Rheumatoid arthritis

Joint inflammation is one of the main problems with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A surge of inflammation, called a “flare,” may increase RA symptoms such as joint pain and swelling.

RA inflammation is partly caused by chemical messengers called cytokines. Cytokines may be released for many reasons, and one of those reasons is stress.

If you feel stressed and your body releases more cytokines, then you are likely to develop more inflammation. More inflammation may cause more pain.

Inflammation also plays a role in how plaque grows in the walls of arteries. Plaque in an artery leading to your heart helps set the stage for a possible heart attack.

RA itself may increase the risk of heart disease. So people with RA have important reasons for paying attention to the stress in their lives.

More Information

Have a minute? Learn about a few ways to help reduce stress: laughter, meditation and physical activity.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


Peter Talks Staying Healthy: Learn about Medicare benefits designed to help you live a healthier life.

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