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Can anxiety cause medical problems?

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Yes, chronic anxiety and stress can contribute to medical problems. When anxiety and stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, it results in increased heart rate, increased heart contractions, and contriction of blood vessels. This can lead to medical problems of high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attack (myocardial infarction or ischemia), constricted blood vessels (atherosclerosis), and sudden death.

Anxiety and stress also activates the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which leads to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which increases blood glucose and suppresses immune function. Chronic release of stress hormones from stress and anxiety can result in diabetes, stroke, and coronary artery disease.

Anxiety and stress also affects a part of the brain called the parabrachial nucleus, which controls the rate of breathing. With the prolonged activation of the parabrachial nucleus from anxiety and stress, it can lead to shortness of breath and can exacerbate asthma.

Other medical problems that can result from anxiety and stress include infertility and acceleration of the aging process.
answered Mar 26, 2016 by drcarlo (296,540 points)