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Stress me not

Do not underestimate the impact of excessive long-term stress on your body.
Do not underestimate the impact of excessive long-term stress on your body.

Mount Elizabeth Hospitals doctors share how excessive amounts of stress may have adverse effects on your health

How does stress affect one’s health?

In the 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey, 92 per cent of surveyed working Singaporeans report feeling stressed — higher than the global average of 84 per cent.

Dr Alvin Ng, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, explains that stress is a commonly used term to refer to the heightened sense of mental or psychological awareness that the body has of its surroundings.

“Our body has built-in mechanisms of ‘fight or flight’ through the hormonal and nervous systems. Many agree stress is a necessity for self-preservation,” he adds.

Too much of a good thing can become bad, especially over time. This is because the impact of stress on the body may be both direct and indirect.

The direct impact can be elevated levels of neurohormonal chemicals in the body, while the indirect impact can be bodily or lifestyle adjustments as a result of the stress.

Dr Ng says: “Elevated levels of neurohormonal chemicals can result in elevated heart rates. This can directly stress the cardiovascular system. There is an accelerated pace of wear and tear. Blood pressures can be elevated and this can also have direct or indirect consequences.”

The metabolic system, especially in terms of the body’s sugar levels, can also go awry.

Although the body is capable of compensating for the changes, over the long run, certain components do give way to permanent consequences.

This is why we should not underestimate the impact of stress on our bodies.

Stress-induced headaches

Dr Wee Chee Keong, neurologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, says stress and lack of sleep are ubiquitous factors in modern urban living known to trigger headaches or even migraines.

Headaches such as migraines are a common problem. In fact, migraines are estimated to affect 10 per cent of the population.

“Most headaches respond well to over-the-counter medications,” explains Dr Wee, adding that it helps to treat the headaches early. “Many people believe they should only take these medications when the pain is very severe, but doing so may mean that the headache becomes harder to treat, and people may end up taking more drugs instead.”

Although headaches can be self-managed, there are some warning signs that might need you to make a visit to the doctor or neurologist.

These signs include severe headaches that reach maximal intensity abruptly like a “thunderclap”, headaches that occur with fever, and headaches experienced by those aged 50 and above.

Stress may affect your bladder

Among other factors, psychological stress may exacerbate the development of lower urinary tract disorders such as overactive bladder (OAB).

OAB syndrome is the sudden urge to urinate that is difficult to control. Some of the signs include:

  • Urgency: Sensation to pass urine.
  • Leaking of urine or incontinence: Involuntary leak of urine following an urgent need to pass urine. This usually happens when you cannot find a toilet in time.
  • Frequency: Having the need to pass urine more than eight times in 24 hours.
  • Nocturia: Waking up at night to pass urine.

You need to seek help if the symptoms of OAB affect your quality of life, ability to sleep well and social activities.

A urologist will ascertain that the patient has no other underlying conditions mimicking symptoms of OAB — such as bladder stones, urinary tract infections or cancer — that require treatment.

Treatment options will be stepwise approaches which might include bladder training, lifestyle modifications such as reducing consumption of caffeinated drinks, medication, electrical modulation and surgery.

For more information, visit Mount Elizabeth Hospitals website or call 6250-0000 (Orchard)/6898-6898 (Novena).

This article provides general information only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult medical or healthcare professionals for advice on health-related matters.