Stress-related health conditions: what you need to know

Most people are familiar with common symptoms of stress, including anxiety, worry, irritability, depression, and unhappiness. But there are many other stress-related health problems that you might experience if your stress is left unmanaged. Here are some surprising ways that stress affects your health.

The hidden spectrum of stress-related health problems

Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of day-to-day life. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Nervousness before a test is a normal type of stress that typically goes away when the stress is over. 

But if stress becomes chronic and you are stressed all the time, it can significantly impact your physical and mental health in a variety of ways. Stress can affect nearly every aspect of your health, from your immune system to your reproductive system. 

Here are some of the stress-related health problems you could experience and how our caring providers can help you to cope with them.

1) Hair loss

Can stress cause hair loss? Yes! During the pandemic, which was a stressful time for everyone, online searches for hair loss went up 8% as it accounted for more than 800,000 searches per month. Dermatologists saw a significant increase in patients who were experiencing this problem.

To understand stress-related hair loss, it’s helpful to understand that there are three stages of hair growth and shedding: anagen, catagen, and telogen.

Anagen is the active phase of hair growth. In this phase, cells in the hair’s root actively divide, generating new hair. As new hair grows, it pushes the old hair (called club hair) out of the follicle and takes its place. 

Hair grows at an average of six inches per year. People with a longer anagen phase can grow hair faster, whereas people with a slower anagen phase aren’t able to grow their hair as long.

In the catagen phase, the hair stops growing and the root shrinks. In this phase, which lasts two to three weeks, active hair becomes club hair.

In the telogen phase, club hair sheds at an average of 25-100 strands per day. If the body is under stress, hair can suddenly be forced from the anagen phase to the telogen phase, which causes accelerated hair loss. 

This condition is called telogen effluvium (TE), and people with this condition can shed 300 or more hairs per day.

Physical stressors that cause TE include childbirth, jetlag, surgery, and fevers. Psychological stressors, including trauma, anxiety, and grief can also cause TE.

2) Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle becomes enlarged, rigid, or thick and loses its ability to pump effectively.  

A form of cardiomyopathy that is stress-induced is commonly called “broken heart syndrome,” which occurs when a person experiences sudden or extreme stress. Domestic violence, natural disasters, financial crises, and shocking news can all cause this form of cardiomyopathy.

Another name for broken heart syndrome is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo is the Japanese name for the balloon-shaped clay pot used to catch octopi. It describes broken heart syndrome because the heart becomes balloon-shaped when this form of cardiomyopathy weakens the left ventricle.

 3) Vision loss

When stress is high, some people can experience temporary vision loss due to stress. This condition is called central serous chorioretinopathy (CSC), and it causes fluid to accumulate under the retina. Patients with CSC experience blurry or distorted vision. In some cases, they can also have temporary vision loss.

Stress is one of the most common causes of CSC. When someone is experiencing stress, they have higher levels of a stress hormone called cortisol. 

Cortisol causes inflammation as well as fluid leakage. When a person has high cortisol levels in their system, fluid can seep into the retina and cause CSC.

This condition is more common in men than women and usually affects patients between 30-50 years old. Treatment often includes lifestyle changes, meditation, improved sleep, and stress reduction.

4) Headaches

You probably already know stress causes headaches. Stress is a common trigger of migraines and tension-type headaches. Migraines cause throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. Tension-type headaches usually cause a dull headache as well as a sense of pressure or tightness along the scalp and neck muscles.

Stress can cause muscle tension, which leads to headaches if the tension is in the scalp or neck. Stress hormones also affect blood vessels, which can trigger migraines if the blood vessels that supply the head and brain are affected.

5) Irregular periods

Stress can cause irregular periods, affecting a woman’s menstrual cycle. This is because the stress hormone cortisol directly affects estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that control the menstrual cycle. 

A disruption in estrogen and progesterone can cause a woman’s period to become irregular, or it can cause her to miss a period altogether. 

Beyond the symptoms: How stress affects your health

Stress can affect your health in ways beyond just the symptoms listed above. It can negatively impact your body, mood, and behavior. 

Chronic stress can also lead to an increased risk of certain illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It also suppresses the immune system, putting you at risk of getting sick more often. 

Overall, stress can make it challenging to stay healthy since it impacts many different parts of your body. 


Navigating stress-related health challenges together

Stress must be actively managed to reduce the impact of stress-related health conditions on your body and mental well-being. 

This can include various lifestyle activities, like regular exercise and relaxation. It can also involve setting aside time for hobbies, writing in a journal, and ensuring you regularly get enough sleep. 

Our practitioners are also here to help with ideas for managing stress and provide referrals if needed. Our urgent care centers are open 365 days a year, seven days a week, to care for you. To get started, find the center nearest you and either walk in or save your spot online.

Written By Sarah The bargePhysician Assistant on March 14th, 2024