REVIEW – November 2004

Late adverse health effects of mental stressexperiencing


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This review presents problems related to potential long-term health effects of mental stress. Stress is not a disease but an integral part of everyday life. Yet various health disorders may arise as the late adverse health effects of chronic stress. Prospective epidemiological studies have found that on the basis of experienced stress it is possible to prognosticate development of peptic ulcer in persons who did not have it when the study was launched, and exacerbation of the ulcer in persons who had it before. It is supposed that the contribution of mental stress to development of cardiovascular diseases may have been overestimated. Misleading conclusions have been described reached possibly by associating stress with diseases on the basis of routinely collected hospitalisation data. Doubled risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases occurs in persons who categorize themselves as experiencing high work-related stress in comparison with those who assess such stress as low. There is little evidence of to the association between stressful psycho-social factors and breast cancer. Stress-induced hormonal changes, as well as the health behaviour of a prospective stressed mother may affect the course of pregnancy, the risk of preterm birth and development of congenital malformations in the newborn. It is not stress itself that causes harmful effects to the individual but the inability to cope with it successfully. Temporary alleviation of stress by moderate alcohol consumption or eating is somewhat efficacious, yet, considering the late effects, this option is ineffective and hazardous to health. Nicotine addiction increases psychological distress.