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Study shows how stress may be killing you

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

Researchers in Sweden find that people with stress-related disorders are at greater risk for life-threatening infections.

We’ve long known that excessive or chronic stress increases our risk for disease. But did you know that it can increase your risk for a fatal infection? That is what an international team of researchers recently reported in the British Medical Journal.

The Swedish National Patient Register contains medical information on everyone in the country that has been hospitalized since 1987, or seen medical specialists since 2001. In the study, researchers looked at records of 144,919 people who’d been diagnosed with a stress-related disorder between 1987 and 2013. Stress-related diagnoses included post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress reaction, and adjustment problems or other adverse reactions to stress.

Of interest were the number of times these individuals had experienced severe, life-threatening infections such as sepsis and meningitis. Researchers also checked to see how many had been prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. SSRIs are commonly used in the treatment of stress and depression.

They then compared these results with those of people of the same age, sex and country of birth with no history of stress-related diagnosis.

Stress increases the risk for life-threatening infection

Results showed that approximately 61% of people diagnosed with a stress-related disorder were women, and that many had a history of psychiatric disorders, chronic illness and infectious diseases. They were also more likely to be from low-income families. More importantly, those with a history of stress-related disorders were significantly more likely to experience life-threatening infections. This was particularly true if they were diagnosed at a young age.

Those with a history of stress-related disorders were significantly more likely to experience life-threatening infections.

Researchers also found that the likelihood of a life-threatening infection persisted regardless of income, family history and physical health, and that psychiatric and substance use disorders further magnified this risk. The one thing that appeared to lessen the probability of infection was taking a SSRI for more than one year.

Results of this study affirmed the research team’s previous work that people diagnosed with a stress-related disorder were at heightened risk for autoimmune disease. Results of both studies led the researchers to recommend that greater attention be paid to the long-term effects of trauma, particularly when it is experienced in childhood.

Relieving stress through intentional breathing

One way that stress exacts its toll is by revving up your nervous system, making you more susceptible to chronic inflammation and disease. It can also negatively affect brain function in older adults. Mind-body practices like yoga and meditation help stimulate the vagus nerve and ease the stress response.

Changing how you breathe can be a simple, quick and effective way to break the stress cycle. By paying attention to how you breathe, and drawing out the length of your exhale, you can reap numerous benefits to your brain, mood, and mind.

Give this Intentional Breathing exercise a try.


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