The relationship between stress and illness is complex. The susceptibility to stress varies from person to person. Among the factors that influenced the susceptibility to stress are genetic vulnerability, coping style, type of personality and social support. Not all stress has negative effect. Studies have shown that short-term stress boosted the immune system, but chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest an illness. It raises catecholamine and suppressor T cells levels, which suppress the immune system. This suppression, in turn raises the risk of viral infection. Stress also leads to the release of histamine, which can trigger severe broncho-constriction in asthmatics. Stress increases the risk for diabetes mellitus, especially in overweight individuals, since psychological stress alters insulin needs. Stress also alters the acid concentration in the stomach, which can lead to peptic ulcers, stress ulcers or ulcerative colitis. Chronic stress can also lead to plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis), especially if combined with a high-fat diet and sedentary living. The correlation between stressful life events and psychiatric illness is stronger than the correlation with medical or physical illness. The relationship of stress with psychiatric illness is strongest in neuroses, which is followed by depression and schizophrenia. There is no scientific evidence of a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the immune system changes and the development of cancer. However, recent studies found a link between stress, tumour development and suppression of natural killer (NK) cells, which is actively involved in preventing metastasis and destroying small metastases.
Keywords: Stress; cancer; immune system; medical illness; personality; psychiatric illness.