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Stress can take its toll on the body and can easily make anyone feel sick. Although anyone who is truly suffering from a disease can also feel stressed, it is more common for people to experience stress symptoms in the absence of actual disease.

Stress Symptoms

People experience stress in different ways and while some have a high tolerance for the ordinary nuances of life, others are not able to cope well. They may show symptoms, which manifest physically or through their moods and behaviors.

Physical symptoms of stress include chronic headache, chest pains, stomach trouble, sleep problems, muscle tension, sexual impotence or reduced sex drive. Stress also affects one's moods and can bring about constant worry, anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, anger, and irritability. Behaviors may also change and may manifest as overeating or lack of appetite, chain smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or social withdrawal.

The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones, which help us cope with threats in the form of "fight-or-flight" responses. When the source of stress is resolved or when one is able to relax, these hormones diminish and symptoms disappear. However, with chronic stress, there is sustained elevation of stress hormones, which can lead to lowered immunity and chronic symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and stomach aches.

These symptoms may be very similar to those experienced by people who are suffering from organic diseases, such as heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, or stomach ulcers, or mental disorders such as bipolar disorder or chronic depression. To determine the cause of your symptoms, doctors may request for various laboratory tests, including blood tests, imaging exams, etc, which may help rule out physical or mental abnormalities.

Stress or Disease?

Stress symptoms may mimic certain conditions, but if you are concerned about your health and simple relaxation techniques do not improve your symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor for proper evaluation and treatment if necessary. Some conditions that may be considered include:

  • Thyroid dysfunction, which may be due to an underactive thyroid. Thyroid screening tests, consisting of blood tests for thyroid hormones and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) may be requested.

  • Gastrointestinal disorders, which may be due to a structural or a functional disorder. Tests may include blood tests, imaging and endoscopic examinations.

  • Neurologic conditions such as post-concussion syndrome, seizure disorders, stroke, and brain tumors, which can cause headaches, dizziness and other symptoms. Tests may include blood tests, CT scan, MRI, and lumbar taps.

  • Heart disease, such as coronary heart disease, may cause chest pain, easy fatigue and weakness. Blood tests, electrocardiogram, and cardiac stress test help determine the efficiency of heart function.

  • Sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea, due to structural problems in the airways, may cause daytime sleepiness, fatigue and changes in mood and behavior. Physical examination and clinical evaluation may help diagnose the cause of these problems.

  • Other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia may be more difficult to diagnose because physical examination and laboratory tests usually yield negative results. However, doctors use certain diagnostic criteria to establish a patient's condition based on their symptoms.

  • Psychiatric disorders such as chronic depression, bipolar disorder or post traumatic stress disorder need to be evaluated and distinguished from simple stress symptoms using certain diagnostic criteria based on a patient's pattern of thoughts and behaviors.

These conditions must be treated after thorough evaluation to improve your health and prevent complications. However, if your symptoms are associated with chronic stress, you may likewise need help learning to cope with your condition. Consult your physician to find out more about what is bothering you and get proper treatment.

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