Weight Gain. Often stress is related to weight gain and Obesity. Many people develop cravings for salt, fat, and sugar to counteract tension and, thus, gain weight. Weight gain can occur even with a healthy diet, however, in some people exposed to stress. And the weight gained is often abdominal fat, a predictor of Diabetes and heart problems. In a 2000 study, lean women who gained weight in response to stress tended to be less able to adapt to and manage stressful conditions. The release of cortisol, a major stress hormone, appears to promote abdominal fat and may be the primary connection between stress and weight gain in such people.
Weight Loss. Some people suffer a loss of appetite and lose weight. In rare cases, stress may trigger hyperactivity of the thyroid gland, stimulating appetite but causing the body to burn up calories at a faster than normal rate.
Chronic stress has been associated with the development of insulin-resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to use insulin effectively to regulate glucose (blood sugar). Insulin-resistance is a primary factor in Diabetes. Stress can also exacerbate existing Diabetes by impairing the patient’s ability to manage the disease effectively.
Researchers are attempting to find the relationship between pain and emotion, but the area is complicated by many factors, including effects of personality types, fear of pain, and stress itself.
Muscular and Joint pain. Chronic pain caused by arthritis and other conditions may be intensified by stress. (According to a study on patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, however, stress management techniques do not appear to have much effect on arthritic pain.) Psychologic distress also plays a significant role in the severity of back pain. Some studies have clearly associated job dissatisfaction and Depression to back problems, although it is still unclear if stress is a direct cause of the back pain.
headaches. Tension-type headache episodes are highly associated with stress and stressful events. (Sometimes the headache doesn’t even start until long after a stressful event is over.) Some research suggests that tension-type headache sufferers may actually have some biological predisposition for translating stress into muscle contraction. Among the wide range of possible migraine triggers is emotional stress (although the headaches often erupt after the stress has eased). One study suggested that women with migraines tend to have personalities that over-respond to stressful situations.
The tensions of unresolved stress frequently cause insomnia, generally keeping the stressed person awake or causing awakening in the middle of the night or early morning.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD