What is the Pathophysiological Effect of Stress on the Immune System?
Stress is a feeling of anxiety and pressure, which the body feels in response to any external demand that cannot be easily coped with. It can develop out of both positive as well as negative experiences. Stress can be emotional or psychological, such as the loss of a dear one or after losing one’s job or anything that affects a person sentimentally. Fatigue and getting overworked are also stressful situations that cause worry, and a person feels ‘stressed.’ Stress can affect the body in many ways, and it can lead to sickness, tired, distract a person and inhibit their concentration and even cause a nervous breakdown. However, stress also affects the immune system and causes changes in the body’s immunity and ability to fight disease. (Stress.org, 2015).
The human brain and its delicate operating system with the associated hormonal changes are greatly altered by persistent stress. Being stressed all the time causes the brain to send defense signals to the endocrine system that releases hormones periodically that does prepare the body for all kinds of emergency situations, but at the same time, the effect of the immune system is being compromised. Stress leads to almost all incidences of heart disease and diabetes. (Mc. Leod, 2010).
The body’s immune system is governed by billions of cells that circulate in the bloodstream and defend the body against disease and illness. The cells enter the glands and tissues in the body and eliminate any possible threat of disease or infection. They also fight against viruses, bacteria, and even cancerous body cells. These cells are termed as lymphocytes. The lymphocytes are of two kinds. The first are called the T-cells, which locks any foreign cell or particle in their grasp and multiplies to destroy the infected cell. The other kind, the B-cells, release antibodies into the fluid that surrounds cells and tissues, and they attack and destroy any foreign cell. (Vincenzi, n.d).
The main kinds of cells that are responsible for the body’s immunity are called the white blood cells. They too are of two main kinds known as the lymphocytes and the phagocytes. As described above, stress causes his brain to release additional hormones that in turn suppress the immune system. The stress hormone called corticosteroid lowers the number of lymphocytes in the blood stream. (Mc. Leod, 2010). With the number of lymphocytes reduced, the body’s ability to fight against antigens is significantly lowered. Stress can also affect the immune system by causing the person to become vulnerable to disease and illness on their own. Many people cannot cope with stress without having an additional aid for the sake of alcohol or drugs and smoking, which are activities that affect the immune system adversely. (Mc. Leod, 2010).
They also cause hormonal and psychological changes which need to be compensated by the brain through working in a direction that copes with their effect rather than helping the body retrieve its strength and boost the immunity. (Mc. Leod, 2010).
If the immune system is compromised for a short period of time, it is not alarming for the human body. However, long-term stress can lead to serious health risks due to lowered immunity. An example that can be quoted is that of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS, which is an illness in which the immune system is already compromised to a large extent. The body does not have enough white cells to fight the disease, and the infection itself kills the white cells that lead to a very low white cell count in the blood. However, if a person remains stressful in this disease, then the chances of fighting the illness are even lowered because stress causes the body to reduce the production of the white cells and they are not processed to fight infection which can make it even worse. In the same way, stress affects the circulatory system of the body. (Vincenzi, n.d). There is an increased strain on the circulatory system which causes the heart rate to increase. With persistent stress and a lowered immune system, it becomes very obvious that the organ will be prone to illness and disease which leads to coronary heart disease and other such illnesses. Diabetes is also incurred through stress. The human body when constantly under pressure and burden from external or internal stress will produce large amounts of hormones that keep the glucose level in the blood at a very high rate. This glucose cannot be easily compensated with sufficient amount of insulin to lower the level and after being persistently high, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to reduce blood sugar level. This causes an irreversible condition of diabetes, which cannot be cured. (Vincenzi, n.d).
Not only that, stress has a major effect on the digestive system. Immunity is only boosted when the human body has strength and nutrition in it. When there is less nutrition, the chances of staying healthy and immune to disease are lowered down. Persistent stress leads to lowered digestion. After stress is relieved, digestion is improved to a large extent. With persistent stress and inhibited digestion, the stomach keeps producing HCL and the stomach remains acidic. However, if no food is being taken in, the stomach wall may begin to digest itself as it is made of protein. This causes a condition known as stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers can become very painful and are cured after a long period of time. Also, the high amount of adrenaline in the blood stream may cause the immunity to be reduced, and ulceration can take place even quicker, and stress will accentuate it. (Mc. Leod, 2010).
Therefore, stress is related to reduced immunity, and persistent stress is very dangerous for the body because it can cause the body to develop diseases for the short-term as well as long-term. Stress compromises the body’s ability to fight disease and infection.
Mc. Leod, Saul. (2010). “Stress. Illness and the immune system.” Simply Psychology.”
Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
Stress.org. (2015). “What is stress?” Retrieved from http://www.stress.org.uk/what-is-stress.aspx
Vincenzi, F. Frank. (n.d). “The Pathophysiology of Stress.” Retrieved from