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Physiological Impacts Of Stress Essay

1816 words - 8 pages

With the prevalence of chronic stress affecting individuals worldwide, the subject of stress and its relation to illness has fuelled an abundance of research. The main essence of chronic stress is the body’s psychological and physiological response to coping with and adjusting to real or perceived threats which are excessive or unrelenting. Such stressors can be defined as emotional, physical, social and environmental demands brought on by fear, intensive exercise, illness, negative relationships or poor living conditions (UMMC, 2011). This essay sets out to discuss the physiological consequences of chronic stress on the body, with particular attention to the impact that it has on the ...view middle of the document...

Moreover, these chemical messengers are also responsible for vasoconstriction of blood vessels which inhibit the functioning of the digestive system; this prevents blood from being diverted from essential working muscles and organs such as the brain heart and lungs (Starr & McMillan, 2010: 296-297).

Figure 1 – HPA Axis Stress response (Tortora & Derrickson, 2012: 715)

The second system which forms part of the stress response is the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis. The Paraventricular Nucleus (PVN) located in the Hypothalamus releases a peptide hormone called Corticotrophin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) which targets the Anterior Pituitary lobe to synthesise and release Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone ACTH (Tortora & Derrickson, 2012: 715). ACTH then stimulates a reaction of biochemical events which results in the release of the stress hormone Cortisol. There are two types of Corticosteroids (Cortisol) which are involved in the stress response, and these are Glucocorticoids and Mineralocorticoids (aldosterone). Glucocorticoids are primarily responsible for regulating metabolism by raising blood glucose levels; this inhibits the production of insulin and ensures an immediate supply of energy to working muscles (Sherwood, 2010: 700). Mineralocorticoids on the other hand stimulate the uptake of Sodium (Na+) and excretion of Potassium (K+) resulting in salt and water retention which induces a temporary state of hypertension due to increase in blood pressure and blood volume. These systems all work together through a negative feedback loop to ensure that the body returns to homeostasis once the threat or temporary state of stress subsides (Waugh & Grant, 2011: 210-219). Whilst all these built in mechanisms play an important role in helping our body to mobilize during times of acute stress, research has shown that chronic on-going stress can wreak havoc with our Cardiovascular and Immune systems and subsequently cause the body to break down (Ogden, 2004: 257-266).
From a physiological perspective, the effects of chronic stress can leave the sympathetic nervous system in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, causing elevated levels of cortisol to surge throughout the body. Whilst cortisol does play a pivotal role in metabolism and balancing blood glucose levels, research has also shown that prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol can produce multiple symptoms associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome (Walker, 2012). Cortisol has a direct effect on cardiac health firstly by reducing the secretion of Human Growth Hormones (HGH). Deficiencies in HGH negatively affect the heart by weakening cardiac muscle; this subsequently results in decreased cardiac contractility, thus threatening vital transportation of oxygenated blood to organs and tissues throughout the body. Furthermore, research also shows that chronic elevated levels of cortisol also promotes hypertension, and...

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