Will Stress Cause Death?

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How will we die? Will it be a violent act, intentional, accidental or an illness? These questions may cross your mind every once in a while. Most often we try to create safe and healthy lifestyles yet unintentionally we are killing ourselves with stress.

Not so fun fact! Stress can induce death, although it will not be labeled as the official cause. The death certificate (according to the CDC listed death injuries) doesn’t include stress as a listed injury. Most often, the death certificate may read the injury as a suicide, disease of the heart, hypertension / hypertensive renal disease or chronic lower respiratory disease. Ultimately the true signs of death are respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and brain death. Stress is merely a passerby, exploring targets of your body to shut down providing a cause death.

Speaking of stress and death, the current events are challenging with a never ending “bad news” cycle. I swear everyday there’s a mass murder, gun violence, political drama and illnesses that rise in cases and fall. The regular news media outlets are a freaking roller coaster ride. Nonetheless, that happens to be my personal acute (short-term) stressor. Surely we all have differences in what stressors we can tolerate, some more than others. But I’d like to explore death and its relationship with stress. If for no other reason than to explore why the cause of death isn’t listed as stress.

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Occasionally, there are stressors that aren’t easy to ignore that may fall under the chronic (long-term) stress. The ubiquity of chronic stress occurs during circumstances that are uncontrollable; examples are sick family member, loss of employment or housing, death in the family. Extended stress is harmful to our health by increasing the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.

Disclaimer, before continuing to read, please note that I am not a doctor nor am I giving advice intended to supplement doctors advice. No, no, no! Respectfully, please see a medical professional if there are questions and concerns regarding your stress and health.

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Much of this information comes from preclinical studies, and the journey down the rabbit hole is locating the link to stress and death.

How are stress test findings determining health risks? The tests aren’t as simple as going into a haunted house and being frightened half to death. Although it would be a cool study to review. The stress test measure responses that can be quantified in medical terms of blood pressure, pulse, and anxiety ratings. Volunteers are willfully increasing social anxiety, physical pain for the purpose of clinical research.

The first test is called TSST, which is the Trier Social Stress Test, known for testing acute stressors in psychosocial anxiety. This stress test is conducted by “requiring volunteers do interview-style presentations, surprise mental arithmetic test, all while being observed by a panel”. To add on the stressor, the panel will not respond giving no “feedback or encouragement”.

The second test is the CPT, Cold Pressor Test, also an acute stressor test. Whereby the volunteer submerges their hand in freezing water for roughly three minutes. This provided a “reliable activation of the blood pressure, skin conductance”. Lastly the MAST, Maastricht Acute Stress test which is a combination of both the TSST and CPT. A combination of the psychosocial, physical pain, uncontrollable and unpredictability creates this stressor test. Personally, I’d rather take my chances in the haunted house, but I’m no scientist.

In the Chart listing the Top 15 causes of death (fig 1), the disease of the heart is number one. Sadly, also included in the top 15 are the other three causes of death induced by stress. It’s interesting to note here that there are variations of stress by gender (See fig, 2). According to the trier social stress test: principles and practice, stress disorders are higher in females than in males (i.e. anxiety disorder, depression, and irritable bowel). Testing gender stress response are easily determined using the TSST. The test focus is high levels of self-consciousness. During the testing, it was concluded that men often divert attention away from a stress situation. Resulting in fewer cognitive errors and lower heart rate. Differing, women experienced higher levels of stress amounting to low cognitive health.

Back to the causes of death. Yup it was stress that killed them. Stress was holding the gun, the body and mind pulled the trigger, it was a domino effect. So it is safe to conclude that stress aided suicide. Stress aided the disease of the heart. And yes, stress aided in hypertension / hypertensive real disease and chronic lower respiratory disease.

So the bad news is we’re all gonna die. No matter what it’s unavoidable. But it’s okay, we can control some elements approaching our final destination. We’re eating healthy, exercising making lasting healthy connections with humans and animals. In Addition, we can actively reduce the “self induced” stressors. I’ve deleted ALL social media apps from my personal devices. I’ve also given up the addiction to the media news and constant notifications dinging on my cellphone. Personally, I’d prefer not to be notified every time someone sends an emoji replacing full conversations. Annoying and possibly one of my stressors.

Death will come, so it’s best to improve longevity through better quality of living. In addition to speaking with a medical professional.

Don’t Worry — Be Happy — Bobby McFerrin

Sources:

Shilton, A. L., Laycock, R., & Crewther, S. G. (2017). The Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST): Physiological and subjective responses in anticipation, and post-stress. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 567.

Smeets, T., Cornelisse, S., Quaedflieg, C. W., Meyer, T., Jelicic, M., & Merckelbach, H. (2012). Introducing the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST): A quick and non-invasive approach to elicit robust autonomic and glucocorticoid stress responses. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(12), 1998–2008.

Allen, A. P., Kennedy, P. J., Dockray, S., Cryan, J. F., Dinan, T. G., & Clarke, G. (2017). The trier social stress test: principles and practice. Neurobiology of stress, 6, 113–126.

Lathers, C. M., & Schraeder, P. L. (2006). Stress and sudden death. Epilepsy & Behavior, 9(2), 236–242.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999–2019 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2020. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999–2019, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html on Aug 13, 2021 9:56:02 PM Www.cdc.gov/controller