- COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Story Ideas from Johns Hopkins
- Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy During the Pandemic
- Stay active
- Target stress
- Limit anxiety and sleep medications
- Stay connected as much as possible
- Use the internet strategically
- 5 Ways for Employers to Promote Heart Health – Nova Medical Centers
- 7 Unique Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy: Advanced Health:
- 1. Laughter Is the Best Medicine
- 2. Love the Mediterranean Diet
- 3. Listen to Your Favorite Tunes
- 4. Man’s Best Friend May Be Your Heart’s Best Friend
- 5. Everyone Needs a Hug
- 6. The Secret of Making Love
- 7. Little Acts of Kindness
- Have Fun While Keeping Your Heart Health in Check
- The Effects of Stress on Your Body
- Central nervous and endocrine systems
- Respiratory and cardiovascular systems
- Digestive system
- Muscular system
- Sexuality and reproductive system
- Immune system
- Plants as Medicine: DIY Bitters for Stress
- Ease the Stress of a Heart Condition
COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Story Ideas from Johns Hopkins
Newswise — From The Front Lines: A Thank You from Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital Physician Meghan Martin, M.D.
It seems there will never be enough “thank-you’s” for the incredible doctors, nurses technicians and support staff who are working around the clock to help patients with this dangerous disease. It is their dedication, determination and spirit that allow Johns Hopkins to deliver the promise of medicine.
Meghan Martin, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In her role, she cares for some of Johns Hopkins’ youngest patients. Martin is available to speak with the press about the changes she’s had to make in patient care as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
New App Aims to Spot COVID-19 Outbreaks
The COVID-19 tracker app is part of a research trial
Identifying the next COVID-19 outbreak may seem impossible to predict, but a new app that collects body temperature recordings may give researchers advance warning of an impending hotspot of illness.
The app, available through Google Play and the Apple App Store, asks users to record their body temperature and respond to questions about key COVID-19 symptoms. The anonymized data is linked to a randomly generated ID and stored on a secure server. Temperature and symptom data are mapped geographically to provide a display of anomalies occurring across the country.
“This type of data tracking could be really useful to enable targeted large-scale testing efforts,” says Robert Stevens, M.D.
, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“It could allow us to identify beforehand areas that are at increased or decreased risk and inform decisions regarding mitigation and lifting social distancing restrictions.”
Stevens worked with epidemiologist Frank Curriero, of Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and electrical and computer engineer Ralph Etienne-Cummings, of the Whiting School for Engineering, to develop the app, which they dubbed “COVID Control — A Johns Hopkins University Study.”
The team will analyze the data collected to identify unexplained increases in body temperatures and generate real-time risk estimates of potential COVID-19 outbreaks. This predictive tool will allow health care systems and government agencies to better deploy resources to mitigate the effects of the disease.
Stevens is available to discuss this research trial.
Find more information on COVID Control here. And, read a recent article about the app in the HUB.
Obesity Linked to Severity of COVID-19 Infection in Younger Adults
As the COVID-19 pandemic was initially spreading, data from China and Italy suggested that only about 15% of people under the age of 50 were being hospitalized. However, when the disease reached the United States, physicians anecdotally noted what seemed an uptick in the number of younger patients with disease serious enough to require intensive care.
Although preexisting conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure have been linked to greater susceptibility to the virus, obesity wasn’t on the radar as a risk factor early in the coronavirus outbreak.
That’s because only about 6% of Chinese people and 20% of Italians are obese.
The United States, on the other hand, has a 40% rate of obesity in adults, making researchers wonder if this might factor into the younger population’s showing up with severe disease.
In a new correspondence published on April 30, 2020, in The Lancet, Johns Hopkins researchers examined the link between age and obesity of American patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in intensive care units (ICUs).
Seventy-five percent of the patients had a body mass index (BMI) of 26 or greater, indicating the person as overweight; and 25% had a BMI higher than 35, designating the person as morbidly obese. In general, they found that those patients in the ICU that were younger had higher BMIs, suggesting that younger Americans with obesity are ly at greater risk from COVID-19.
The researchers say that young people should pay attention to social distancing and stay vigilant about when to seek medical treatment in the early stages of their disease to help reduce the risks.
The first author, David Kass, M.D., the Abraham and Virginia Weiss Professor of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is available to discuss the implications of his findings.
Be Aware of Lyme Disease Risks in The Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Spring and summer are the highest risk seasons for contracting Lyme disease from the bite of an infected deer tick.
With most of the country staying at home and social distancing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are spending more time in their gardens and on walks in their neighborhoods and nearby woods — potentially putting them at higher risk for Lyme disease.
There are over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease reported each year in the United States. Daily practices are important in disease prevention.
Hand-washing is recognized as being helpful in preventing COVID-19. wise, daily tick checks are helpful in avoiding Lyme disease. Another effective Lyme disease tip is to treat clothing with tick pesticides, such as permethrin. It is important to take preventative measures as well as to recognize how early presentations of Lyme disease compare and contrast with those of COVID-19.
Flu- symptoms of fever, severe fatigue, malaise, chills, sweats, body/muscle aches and headaches, are present in early Lyme disease, as well as in early COVID-19.
Lyme disease can also present with a distinct large, expanding, bull’s eye-looking rash called erythema migrans, whereas COVID-19 rash presentations may include patchy red lesions that more resemble measles, chicken pox or frostbite. John Aucott, M.D.
, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is available to discuss prevention tips, as well as the clinical impact of Lyme disease and how to distinguish early Lyme disease signs and symptoms from COVID-19. Mark Soloski Ph.D.
, co-director for Basic Research for the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is available to highlight details surrounding the immune response in Lyme disease and how it may be different from the response to COVID-19.
Don’t Skip Needed Care in Fear of COVID-19
With the stay-at-home measures and fear of catching the new coronavirus, people may be thinking twice before deciding what merits a visit to the doctor’s office, an urgent care clinic or the emergency room. There are ways to stay safe and protected when seeking needed care during the pandemic.
It’s important for people to continue to obtain care in-person or remotely when medical attention is needed, especially for those with preexisting or chronic conditions who require follow-up with a health care provider. Not getting care, particularly for chronic illnesses and urgent or emergency conditions, puts people at high risk for complications later.
These complications could end up being worse than the COVID-19 disease.
The following Johns Hopkins Medicine experts can address ways to stay safe during the pandemic, what to seek care for and why it’s important to follow up with a health care provider for certain conditions.
Heart Attackand Cardiovascular Issues
Erin Michos, M.D., M.H.S., Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health
Stroke and Neurological Issues
Victor Urrutia, M.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Comprehensive Stroke Center
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sophie Lanzkron, M.D., M.H.S., Director of the Sickle Cell Center for Adults at The Johns Hopkins Hospital
Older Adult Care
Alicia Arbaje, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., Director of Transitional Care Research at Johns Hopkins
Asthma and COPD
William Checkley, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine
Kathleen Page, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine
Barbara Maliszewski, R.N., M.S., Assistant Director of Nursing, Department of Emergency Medicine
Tracking the Mental Health of Frontline Workers — and How Their Loved Ones Can Help
While the symptoms and effects of COVID-19 continue to develop in unexpected ways, the psychological patterns of frontline workers will follow a predictable pattern, according to Albert W. Wu, M.D., M.P.H.
, an internist at Johns Hopkins Medicine and director of the Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research. And, for many doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients, “we’re at a dangerous point,” he says.
“We’ve gone past the honeymoon phase.”
The adrenalin surge and group cohesion that marked the initial response to the pandemic is giving way to discouragement, exhaustion and burnout among health care workers, explains Wu, a professor of health policy and management, who conducts research on staff support.
Wu is available to trace the emotional highs and lows of frontline workers in a crisis, as well as offer advice as to what their loved ones can do to help — from organizing family conference calls to acknowledging they can unknowingly add stress. “By supporting them, you are supporting the fight against COVID-19,” he says.
Making Sure Vulnerable Communities Have Access to Reliable Information and COVID-19 Care
For many in the Latino community “there’s absolutely no safety net,” says Kathleen Page, M.D., who serves a large population of immigrant patients. “We’re seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases among Latino immigrants, particularly those with limited English proficiency (LEP), who most ly are undocumented.”
To bridge the gap, Page was instrumental in setting up — with the Esperanza Center in Baltimore—a hotline for Spanish speakers. She is also providing information to the Latino community through Live chats, with support from Johns Hopkins Centro Sol and other community partners.
In addition, with collaboration from the Johns Hopkins Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Language Access Services, Page is establishing a bilingual provider consultation service to support the care of Spanish-speaking patients with LEP admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Her team is also assisting the Baltimore City Health Department with contact investigations in this community.
“We’re in the midst of setting up a Spanish provider care team that will be embedded within other care teams in the hospital, to help improve communication with Spanish speaking patients and their families.”
Page is available for interview on this topic.
Mitigating Issues in Senior Care Facilities
Infectious disease specialist Morgan J. Katz, M.D., M.H.S., says 60 to 70 percent of long-term care facility (assisted living and skilled nursing) residents are testing positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic when they are tested.
Katz is part of the Maryland Strike Team, a collaboration between the National Guard, Hospital Systems and the State that focuses efforts on stabilizing nursing homes struggling with COVID outbreaks by providing widespread testing, infection prevention recommendations and care delivery.
Maryland’s strike teams were formed after the confirmation that hundreds of elderly care facilities in Maryland have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Katz is available to discuss what the team is doing; the next steps; and needs for widespread regular testing of long-term care facilities to reduce mortality and a large influx of nursing home residents into acute health care systems.
For information about the coronavirus pandemic from Johns Hopkins Medicine, visit the coronavirus information page. For information on the coronavirus from throughout the Johns Hopkins enterprise, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins University, visit the Coronavirus Resource Center.
Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy During the Pandemic
Justin Paget/Getty Images
En español | Is your brain feeling … foggy? You're not just imagining it.
“Keeping busy with regular activities and spending time with others are both key to brain health and lowering your risk of dementia — and they're also things most of us are lacking right now,” says psychiatrist Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. The good news is there is plenty you can do during this pandemic to keep your brain neurons firing. Here are five things to try.
Exercise won't just keep your heart healthy and your weight down as you face lots of time inside — it helps your brain stay in shape, too.
“We know that regular aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to your brain, and also increases the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain that's involved in verbal memory and learning,” explains geriatrician Zaldy Tan, medical director of the UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program.
His own study, among others, helped uncover the link: “When we performed MRI scans of over 2,000 people over age 60, we found that the more active they were, the bigger their hippocampus,” he says. “Even better, the protective effects were highest in those over age 75, which suggests that it's never too late to start.”
For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.
You don't need much exercise to see benefits.
Walking or cycling just three times a week appears to improve thinking skills after six months in formerly sedentary people over age 55, according to a recent study published in the medical journal Neurology.
A heart-healthy diet adds even more benefits: People who followed the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet, an eating plan rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, fared even better.
Besides getting in a regular walk (or two) during the day, limit sitting as much as possible to preserve your brain health.
Adults ages 45 to 75 who sit for anywhere from three to seven hours each day have a substantial thinning of their medial temporal lobe, which is where the brain forms new memories, according to a 2018 study.
“This is one of the types of changes that precede dementia,” says study coauthor Small.
And don't forget resistance training, if you can squeeze it in, Small adds.
A 2019 study found that lab rats who “weight trained” (meaning they were trained to climb a 3-foot-high ladder with dumbbells attached) three times a week performed much better on memory tests after five weeks than a control group. “It seems to help reduce some of the brain inflammation associated with dementia,” Small says.
Stress itself is toxic to brain cells.
“It kills them off and shrinks both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, both areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning,” says psychiatrist Majid Fotuhi, an affiliate staff member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
A review of studies published in April 2018, which followed almost 30,000 people for at least 10 years, found that people who reported “clinically significant anxiety” were more ly to develop dementia later in life.
Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation or yoga may help fend off anxiety's toll on the brain.
One UCLA study found that people over age 55 who enrolled in a 12-week program consisting of an hour of a type of meditative yoga once a week as well as 20 minutes of at-home meditation had significant improvements in both verbal memory (the ability to remember word lists) and visual-spatial memory (the ability to find and remember locations). Fotuhi says meditation and yoga “appear to enhance production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that stimulates connections between your brain neurons.”
Even if Downward-Facing Dog isn't your thing, you can reap similar benefits by just adding deep breathing exercises into your daily routine five to 10 minutes a day, Fotuhi says.
Limit anxiety and sleep medications
It may be tempting to pop a Xanax or ask your physician for a prescription of sleep meds during these stressful times. But try to avoid doing so if you can, says Small.
People who take a benzodiazepine — drugs such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) or alprazolam (Xanax) — regularly are about 50 percent more ly to develop Alzheimer's, according to a review published in the Journal of Clinical Neurology last year.
Another recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found a link between long-term use of the sleeping pill zolpidem (Ambien) and Alzheimer's. The same holds true for over-the-counter sleep aids such as diphenhydramine or doxylamine (Unisom).
These medications, found in the “PM” versions of Tylenol, Aleve and Advil as well as allergy meds such as Zyrtec and Benadryl, are anticholinergics, a type of drug that has been linked to lower cognitive ability and possibly even dementia in elderly adults, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology.
Sleep itself is important for brain health, because it gives your body a chance to clean out all the waste, such as beta-amyloid plaques that raise risk of developing dementia, Small says.
But rather than relying on meds, you're better off practicing good sleep habits such as cutting out all caffeine after lunch, staying away from electronic devices for a couple of hours before bed, and maintaining regular sleep and wake times every day.
Stay connected as much as possible
Social isolation is a major risk factor for dementia, says Small. If you normally enjoy activities such as a book club or game night, try to arrange them virtually.
“My wife and I play the card game hearts online with our friends a couple times a week,” Small says. Or use the Zoom conferencing platform to create a virtual party where you can hang out with close family and friends.
One landmark University of Michigan study found that just 10 minutes of talking to another person can help boost memory and cognitive performance.
You can also try connecting a little more deeply on social media; if you normally just click “” on friends’ posts, for example, Fotuhi suggests actually commenting on them. “When you write something, chances are they will reply, and it's a way to have a virtual conversation with them,” he says.
If possible, volunteer — whether it's making cloth masks for a homeless shelter, or making weekly phone calls for your house of worship to check in on the homebound.
Seniors who do so have lower rates of dementia, according to a 2017 study.
“It kills two birds with one stone, because it forces you to engage with others while doing something at the same time that works your brain,” Tan says.
Use the internet strategically
While it can be a great tool in helping you stay connected, “our natural tendency is to go online and surf incessantly, which doesn't accomplish anything except to fill up idle time,” Tan says.
Instead, he recommends making a list of things you've always been curious about — learning Japanese, playing guitar, visiting New Zealand — and focusing your browsing on that.
Smithsonian magazine, for example, allows you to explore Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, participate in a virtual wine tasting and venture through various museums without ever leaving your house. Limit your time on news websites, Tan adds, which can be anxiety-producing.
If you feel you don't even have the bandwidth for new online experiences, no worries. Even seemingly little things reading the paper every day or playing Monopoly with your partner or kids instead of watching TV can reap real benefits.
A Chinese study of more than 15,000 people over age 65 published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2018 found that those who regularly participated in intellectual activities such as reading books or newspapers, or playing board games, card games or mah-jongg, had significantly lower risk of dementia.
“Do anything you can do that's not passive, but forces you to think critically and interact with others, “ Tan says.
5 Ways for Employers to Promote Heart Health – Nova Medical Centers
Over the years, Heart disease has become the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Accounting for approximately 1 every 4 deaths, it would be beneficial for employers to encourage employees to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle with heart health top of mind. Dr.
Ron Goetzel, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Institutive for Health and Productivity Studies, admits that “there are a lot of things employers could be doing to encourage healthy habits.
” At Nova Medicals Centers, we strive to provide the best health for employees and have compiled a list of how employers can help.
- Provide healthy, nutrient-filled foods at special work events, potlucks, etc. Studies have shown that adopting a healthy diet can not only decrease the risk but even reverse cardiovascular damage that has already been done
- Provide cooking workshops or recipes so employees are able to cook healthier meals at home
- Have healthier snack options in vending machines and as treats
- Limit alcoholic beverages at company sponsored events
- Work with local grocery stores to provide discounts on fruits/vegetables for employees
- Encourage Physical Activity
- Encourage physical activity so the heart can pump more blood. It is suggested that adults exercise for about 30 minutes every day for at least 5 days a week
- Encourage employees to use the stairs rather than the elevator
- If possible, build an onsite gym for employees to go when they get off work. If not, work with local fitness centers in the area to provide discounted memberships for employees
- Find local events such as marathons or walks for employees that raise funds for patients with heart diseases
- Create a competitive spirit and incentivize the movement for accountability
- Make sure the incentives/rewards are consistent with heart health (Ex: Do not provide gift cards to fast food restaurants or all-you-can-eat buffets)
- Allow employees to walk around and take breaks for fresh air and sunlight
- Encourage a lifestyle, not just goals to reach by certain dates
- Provide a low-stress working environment
- All work environments have some form of stress. Find the difference between a healthy stress environment and an overwhelming stress environment and make sure employees are not working beyond their means
- Create stress management initiatives such as yoga classes or massage therapy to help decrease stress. It has been proven that mental health can directly affect physical health
- Plan Wellness Fairs/Programs
- If possible, set up a Wellness program or collaborate with a wellness center nearby where employees can go for educational information about the importance of a healthy heart
- Set up fairs to allow employees to check their BMI, cholesterol level, blood pressure, etc. as many do not go to the doctor for their yearly check-ups
- Encourage employees to keep track of their own health
- Provide training certification classes such as CPR, AED, or EMT for employees so they know what to do in emergency situations
- Encourage Smoking Cessation
- The Surgeon General of the United States has issued a warning that smoking causes heart Disease, Lung Cancer, and a list of other life-threatening diseases
- Try to encourage smokers to decrease their usage over a period of time while providing support throughout their journey
- Have designated areas for employees who smoke with proper ventilation
Prevention is the best way to decrease chances of developing heart diseases and integrating health prevention into the company’s culture is an ingredient for increase company morale, employee retention, and overall happiness. Not only with these tips help workers to live longer, they are also financially beneficial to both the employer and employee.
At Nova Medical Centers, we specialize solely in Occupational Health. Our Onsite Services are used to help employers with their health-related employment processes from Pre-Employment testing to Corporate Health & Wellness fairs to HR & Safety Consulting. With over 48 facilities across Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Indiana, we strive to provide the best care for America’s workforce.
Written by Oluchi Nwaobia
7 Unique Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy: Advanced Health:
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death and while we cannot change the risk factors – family history and age – we don’t need to accept a fate of dying too young.
We all know that exercise and a healthy balanced diet can make us healthier and keep our heart stronger, but did you know there are surprisingly fun ways to take care of your heart health? Here is our list of unique ways to keep your heart health in check:
1. Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Laughter is not only good for our emotional health, but it also helps our hearts pump a little stronger.
When we laugh, the diameter of our blood vessels enlarges which increases the blood flow with benefits similar to aerobic exercises.
A recent study by the University of Maryland found that when people laugh at a funny movie scene, their blood flow improves. So grab some friends, tell some jokes, and get your heart pumping!.
2. Love the Mediterranean Diet
In 2011, Johns Hopkins Medicine stated in a news release that following a Mediterranean diet can improve our heart health. Since then, many studies have been done on the benefits of this kind of diet and most came to the same conclusion.
The Mediterranean diet is high in green vegetables, fruits, nuts, avocados, beans, high-fiber grains, olives, olive oil, and an occasional side of small, wild fish (ie., salmon). Foods rarely consumed are dairy products (i.e.
, cheese, milk, butter, and ice cream), red meat, poultry, eggs, refined flour, and sugary foods and drinks.
The next time you go shopping, head to your local farmer’s market and stock up on lots of vegetables, avocados, nuts, fruits, non-wheat whole grains, and oils.
3. Listen to Your Favorite Tunes
According to numerous studies listening to music can help you relax and improve your heart health. In a study by a nurse-led team at Massachusetts General Hospital, music was played for 30 minutes each day to heart patients confined to their bed.
Relative to the patients not exposed to the music, the music-exposed patients had lower blood pressure, slower heart rates, and less distress. In another Hong Kong study relaxing music was played for 25 minutes per day for four weeks to older volunteers.
They found the patients’ systolic blood pressure was 12 points lower while their diastolic blood pressure was 5 points lower.
You now have a great excuse for playing your favorite tunes!
4. Man’s Best Friend May Be Your Heart’s Best Friend
Dogs are not only good company to people, but they are also good for our heart health.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), dog owners tend to live longer, have lower risks for heart disease, hypertension, better cholesterol profiles, and are less vulnerable to stress.
Dog owners are generally more active than non-owners. Having a pet who loves you unconditionally has plentiful emotional benefits.
If you’re not in a position to own a dog, don’t despair! Local animal shelters almost always need volunteers to play with dogs. You can also play with a friend’s dog, or even become a part-time dog walker.
5. Everyone Needs a Hug
When giving and receiving hugs, our oxytocin levels rise and our stress hormone, cortisol, drop. We immediately can reduce our stress levels and heart rate while feeling warm and fuzzy.
In an experiment by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, participants who hugged their partners during the trial had a slower heart rate of 10 beats per minute than those who didn’t have contact with their partners.
So grab your partner, friend, sibling, parent, or dog and give them a big hug!
6. The Secret of Making Love
The American Journal of Cardiology published a study in which they found that men who had sex twice a week are half as ly to develop heart disease compared to men who have sex only once per month. During sex, our brains release endorphins which have a calming effect, help us sleep, and are natural painkillers.
You may not need a reason to fornicate, other than that it is fun, but who can argue with science? It’s what the doctor ordered!
7. Little Acts of Kindness
Being kind to others causes our oxytocin levels to rise and our cortisol levels to drop. When cortisol, our stress hormone, increases, our blood pressure and inflammation rises. Oxytocin, on the other hand, lowers our cortisol levels and helps improve our health.
The next time you get angry, think twice and counteract your emotion with benevolence. Doing good deeds every day may just be what you need to improve your health and happiness.
Have Fun While Keeping Your Heart Health in Check
Keeping our hearts healthy just became so much easier! Who doesn’t want to have a good time while looking after your heart?
If you need any advice on heart health, whether with your diet, exercise program, stress level, or finding more fun ways to keep your heart in check, reach out to Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D.
Boosting the Immune System in Pediatrics
This past week, New York City health authorities warned of additional signs and symptoms of the virus. Specifically, children ages 2 to 15, may experience persistent fever and elevated inflammatory markers, similar to a syndrome known as Kawasaki disease.
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
You’re sitting in traffic, late for an important meeting, watching the minutes tick away.
Your hypothalamus, a tiny control tower in your brain, decides to send out the order: Send in the stress hormones! These stress hormones are the same ones that trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response. Your heart races, your breath quickens, and your muscles ready for action.
This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. But when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, it could put your health at serious risk.
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Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone expresses stress from time to time.
Anything from everyday responsibilities work and family to serious life events such as a new diagnosis, war, or the death of a loved one can trigger stress. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health.
It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond.
Yet if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. Symptoms of chronic stress include:
Central nervous and endocrine systems
Your central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of your “fight or flight” response. In your brain, the hypothalamus gets the ball rolling, telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rev up your heartbeat and send blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency, such as your muscles, heart, and other important organs.
When the perceived fear is gone, the hypothalamus should tell all systems to go back to normal. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stressor doesn’t go away, the response will continue.
Chronic stress is also a factor in behaviors such as overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, and social withdrawal.
Respiratory and cardiovascular systems
Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. During the stress response, you breathe faster in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood to your body. If you already have a breathing problem asthma or emphysema, stress can make it even harder to breathe.
Under stress, your heart also pumps faster. Stress hormones cause your blood vessels to constrict and divert more oxygen to your muscles so you’ll have more strength to take action. But this also raises your blood pressure.
As a result, frequent or chronic stress will make your heart work too hard for too long. When your blood pressure rises, so do your risks for having a stroke or heart attack.
Under stress, your liver produces extra blood sugar (glucose) to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge. Chronic stress may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate can also upset your digestive system. You’re more ly to have heartburn or acid reflux thanks to an increase in stomach acid. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers (a bacterium called H. pylori often does), but it can increase your risk for them and cause existing ulcers to act up.
Stress can also affect the way food moves through your body, leading to diarrhea or constipation. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, or a stomachache.
Your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury when you’re stressed. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches. Over time, this can set off an unhealthy cycle as you stop exercising and turn to pain medication for relief.
Sexuality and reproductive system
Stress is exhausting for both the body and mind. It’s not unusual to lose your desire when you’re under constant stress. While short-term stress may cause men to produce more of the male hormone testosterone, this effect doesn’t last.
If stress continues for a long time, a man’s testosterone levels can begin to drop. This can interfere with sperm production and cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Chronic stress may also increase risk of infection for male reproductive organs the prostate and testes.
For women, stress can affect the menstrual cycle. It can lead to irregular, heavier, or more painful periods. Chronic stress can also magnify the physical symptoms of menopause.
What are the causes of inhibited sexual desire? »
Stress stimulates the immune system, which can be a plus for immediate situations. This stimulation can help you avoid infections and heal wounds.
But over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses the flu and the common cold, as well as other infections.
Stress can also increase the time it takes you to recover from an illness or injury.
Keep reading: Learn tips on managing your stress »
Plants as Medicine: DIY Bitters for Stress
Ease the Stress of a Heart Condition
From the WebMD Archives
A heart condition such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, high blood pressure, or even high cholesterol can be a source of worry. And that could become a problem.
“It can be a vicious cycle,” says N.A. Mark Estes, MD, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Stress can make heart conditions worse.”
Hormones your body makes in response to stress can play a role in causing inflammation in your arteries that could be dangerous. Stress also raises your risk for diabetes.
You may even be feeling stressed about being stressed. That leads some people to try to handle their anxiety in unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much, overeating, or smoking.
“Trying to prevent stress completely doesn't usually work, since life just gets stressful sometimes,” says Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Instead, he suggests finding ways to deal with it when it happens.
Experts are unanimous: Exercise is one of the best things you can do for a heart condition. Not only does it improve your physical health, it also can improve your mood and cut stress, Estes says.
How much do you need? Aim for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week of moderately intense activity. Take a brisk walk, swim, bike, or do just about anything that gets your heart going. But since you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before you start a new workout routine.
Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing are all good options. “If you find an approach that gives you satisfaction and lowers your stress, stick with it,” Tomaselli says.
People you love are some of the best stress-busters you have. Give yourself a break. Just have some fun. Share a laugh and good company.
Feeling stressed out and sick can put you in a rut. Push yourself outside the norm to change your outlook.
- Visit a museum or see a local play.
- Go to a restaurant you haven't been to before.
- Listen to a different style of music.
- Spend time outdoors. Read on a park bench.
- Take a foreign language class.
When you're feeling worried and unwell, helping others can take your mind off your troubles and give you a refreshing lift.
Lack of sleep seems to raise levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of restful shut-eye a night.
Take a pass on the situations, and the people, that you know stress you out. Spend time with those who help you feel calm and happy. Put yourself in situations that engage you.
If you think your stress is getting in the way of your life, talk with someone you're comfortable with, or consider seeing a therapist. Airing your concerns with a sympathetic ear can help you discover new ways to approach your problems.
American Heart Association: “Fight Stress With Healthy Habits.”
American Psychological Association: “Stress in the Workplace.”
N. A. Mark Estes, MD, director, Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston; spokesperson, American Heart Association.
National Sleep Foundation: “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” “Sleep, Athletic Performance, and Recovery.”
Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief, division of cardiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.
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