Discuss the link between stress and illness

The immune system is designed to defend the body against antigens. It prevents them from entering the body and causing an illness. It works in three ways: it creates a barrier to prevent antigens from entering the body, if an antigen should get into the body, it tries to detect and eliminate the antigen, and is the virus is able to reproduce, the immune system is responsible is responsible for eliminating it before it can start causing problems. Many different investigations have been carried out into which is more damaging to the immune system, chronic stressors or acute stressors. One such investigation was carried out into stress caused by relationships.

Both marital relationships and separation from a partner can be stressful. Kiecolt-Glaser in 2005 tested the impact of interpersonal conflict on wound healing. It was found that the blister wounds on the arms of marital couples healed more slowly after they had had a conflicting conversation rather than one which is supportive. Also, Malarkey in 1994 studied 90 newlywed couples over a 24 hour period. They were asked to discuss and resolve an issue which was likely t cause conflict, such as finances. Marital conflict produced significant changed in adrenaline and noradrenaline which could lead to poorer immune functioning. This research would suggest that people in a relationship which causes high levels of stress have a poorer immune system than those who do not.

Stress has also been linked to cardiovascular disease. While the SAM system increases the heart rate and GP of a person, the HPAC system releases corticosteroids into the bloodstream, which causes an excess of glucose sugars in the body. This can clog up the arteries and prevent the blood flow, leading to heart attacks and strokes. These things have an immediate and direct effect on the CV system. Also, stress can cause behaviours which are unhealthy. Such as, people who are highly stressed are known to do an excess amount of drinking, smoking and eating, all of which result in an effect on the CV system.

A longitudinal study was carried out into the relation between stress and CVD. A number of people were looked at and put into two categories: one of high-stress level jobs, such as GP’s and surgeons, and the other of low-stress level jobs, such as Dermatologists. Of the high-stress level jobs, 11.9% went on to suffer from CVD, compared to 3.2% of those in a low-stress level job. This study suggests that those who suffer from high amounts of stress are more likely to suffer from CVD than those who do not suffer as much stress in their jobs. Because this is a longitudinal study, the findings can be much more relied upon and widely believed.

However, there are several issues with this particular piece of research: the people who took part may have had high levels of stress to begin with from their personal lives rather than their jobs, some of the participants may have a history of heart disease in their family, and finally it is not clear the gender of the participants, nor the age. It has been scientifically proven that men are more prone to heart disease than woman.

Depression is a commonly diagnosed mental illness which has been related to stress. Brown and Harris found in 1978 that women who suffer from chronic stressors, such as having a number of young children at home or unemployment, were more likely to develop depression. It was also reported that working-class women were more prone to depression than middle-class women. This is because the working-class women found it very stressful having to leave their children in the care of others while they went to work.

Also, Melchior in 2007 carried out a survey over a period of a year. This survey looked at 1000 people, all aged 32 and in various different jobs. The survey found that 15& of those in high-stress level jobs suffered an episode of clinical depression or anxiety during that year, compared to 8% of those in low-stress job. It was also found that women are more prone to depression than men.

There are other mental disorders which have been linked to stress, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As the name suggests, PTSD takes place after a serious trauma has been suffered, and sever emotional and /or physical abuse has been threatened. Examples of this are a car accident, and a violent personal assault. After the Vietnam War in 1975, PTSD was observed in the war veterans. It has since been observed in rape victims, and victims of chronic stressors, such as poverty and ongoing abuse at the hands of another person. There are many links and relations between stress and illnesses. It is fairly safe to say that where a person suffers from severe stress, chronic or acute, illness is never far behind.

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In this essay I am going to outline and evaluate research on the effect of stress on the immune system, to do this I will include Glaser’s study on the effects of stress on the immune system, also Selye’s study …

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