Who is at risk for chronic stress or stress related diseases?
General Factors that Increase Susceptibility
At some point in their lives virtually everyone will experience stressful events or situations that overwhelm their natural coping mechanisms. In one poll, 89% of respondents indicated that they had experienced serious stress in their lives. Many factors influence susceptibility to stress.
Conditions that Influence the Effects of Stress. People respond to stress differently depending on different factors:
- Early nurturing. (Abusive behavior towards children may cause long-term abnormalities in the hypothalamus-pituitary system, which regulates stress.)
- Personality traits. Certain people have personality traits that cause them to over-respond to stressful events.
- Genetic factors. Some people have genetic factors that affect stress, such as having more or less efficient relaxation response. One 2001 study found a genetic abnormality in serotonin regulation that was associated with a heightened reactivity of the heart rates and blood pressure in response to stress. (Serotonin is a brain chemical involved with feelings of well being.)
- Immune Regulated Diseases. Certain diseases that are associated with immune abnormalities (such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Eczema) may actual impair a response to stress.
- The Length and Quality of Stressors. Naturally the longer the duration and more intense the stressors, the more harmful the effects.
Individuals at Higher Risk. Studies indicate that the following people are more vulnerable to the effects of stress than others:
- Younger adults. No one is immune to stress, however, and it may simply go unnoticed in the very young and old.
- Women in general. (Women, in fact, may be at higher risk than men are from stress-related chest pain, although men’s hearts may be more vulnerable to adverse effects from long-term stress, such as from their jobs.)
- Working mothers. (Working mothers, regardless of whether they are married or single, face higher stress levels and possibly adverse health effects, most likely because they bear a greater and more diffuse work load than men or other women. This has been observed in women in the US and in Europe. Such stress may also have a domino and harmful effect on their children.)
- Less educated individuals.
- Divorced or widowed individuals. (A number of studies indicate that unmarried people generally do not live as long as their married contemporaries.)
- The unemployed.
- Isolated individuals.
- People who are targets of racial or sexual discrimination.
- Those without health insurance.
- People who live in cities.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD