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Primary Care | one year ago

Stress Can Cause Serious Health Issues. Know the Symptoms.

Occasional stress is a normal coping mechanism. But long-term or chronic stress requires an immediate visit to your primary care doctor.

Almost every day, Dr. Namrata Singhi at Atrium Health Primary Care Steele Creek Family Medicine says she treats a patient who is dealing with stress. There are certain signs you might notice that can mean it’s time to see a doctor. It’s a good idea to seek help if your stress is causing a major decline in work or school or if you find yourself simply unable to cope with everyday life.

“It’s important to see where you are with your stress levels and take control of it immediately,” Singhi says. “It’s never too early and it’s never too late. When stress becomes an issue or affects your quality of life, it’s time to see your primary care provider. We may need to perform blood work and see if there are any underlying medical conditions first.”

Singhi says the formal diagnosis for stress is anxiety and it can lead to serious health conditions if not addressed right away.

“Insomnia is a big problem,” Singhi says. “Stress keeps you up and your mind is racing. You're not able to get sleep and then it's a cycle during the day where you're feeling tired and not able to function, which then increases stress. You're not able to calm your body and mind down.”

There is a real relationship between anxiety and illness and those who have physical health problems complicated by anxiety tend to have worse symptoms, respond less well to treatment and are more likely to have fatal illnesses, including multiple long-term conditions (living with two or more chronic illnesses).

“Stress can decrease your metabolism which can lead to obesity,” Singhi explains. "You get what’s called metabolic syndrome, that can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”

Singhi notes it becomes a chain reaction. One thing starts and then you can end up having multiple comorbidities, or diseases and conditions that often occur together with another disease or condition related to that.  

Although counseling and medications may be part of the treatment plan, Singhi often suggests lifestyle changes first.

“I tell my patients to take a walk, go outside and enjoy the day and try and get 10,000 steps a day,” Singhi says. “Also, try no cell phones at meals and bedtime to avoid mindlessly scrolling through your phone. And a big one, cut down on alcohol. Yes, drinking may calm you down, but some people medicate themselves with alcohol to help them sleep, and that can cause alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse.”

Singhi has also recently seen marijuana use on the rise. “I've had so many patients who have been self-medicating with marijuana because they're so stressed out and that is leading to increased anxiety.”

Those patients may experience worsening symptoms because THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, seems to be a big factor. High levels of THC have been associated with increased anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate and racing thoughts. So, the more you change your lifestyle to ensure a healthy mind and body, the more you’ll be able to cope with the challenges of depression.

“As a family medicine provider, I love prevention. By talking about it, educating everybody, you're preventing those stressful situations turning into mental breakdowns later in life and having those mental or physical health disorders,” Singhi says.

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