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How does stress affect you? An overview of stress, immunity, depression and disease

  • Clementine Maddock (a1) and Carmine M. Pariante (a2)

Summary

Objective. Stress is a term that has become synonymous with modern life. This review aims to appraise the evidence linking stress with disease with particular reference to the major causes of morbidity and mortality in the Western World, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Changes in immune parameters in stressful situations were reviewed as a possible pathophysiological mechanism for such effects. Method – A Medline search was carried out for the period 1996-2000 to identify recent findings in this field using the terms “stress”, “disease”, “immune system”. Relevant references that were found in all identified publications were also followed up. Results – There is evidence to link stress with the onset of major depression and with a poorer prognosis in cardiovascular disease and cancer. Few small studies suggest that stress management strategies may help to improve survival. Chronic stress appears to result in suppression of the immune response, whereas immune activation and suppression have been associated with acute stress. Inflammatory cytokines, soluble mediators of the immune response, can result in symptoms of depression. Conclusion – Further prospective epidemiologically based studies are needed to clarify the role of stress on disease onset, course, and prognosis. Stress management strategies, aimed at prolonging survival in patients with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and possibly other chronic illnesses, are an exciting area of further research. Immune system changes may account for the relationship between stress and disease. We propose the “stress, cytokine, depression” model as a biological pathway to explain the link between stressful life events and depression.

Scopo – Il termine “stress” viene spesso usato come sinonimo di “vita moderna”. In questa revisione della letteratura abbiamo valutato la relazione tra lo stress e l'insorgenza o il decorso della depressione maggiore, dei disturbi cardiovascolari e delle malattie tumorali, le maggiori cause di morbidità e di mortalita nel mondo occidentale. Abbiamo anche discusso come i cambiamenti nei parametri del sistema immunitario indotti dallo stress possano essere considerati, almeno in parte, responsabili di questa relazione tra stress e malattia. Metodo – Abbiamo condotto una ricerca su Medline per il periodo 1996-2000, utilizzando i termine stress, disease (malattia) e immune system (sistema immunitario), allo scopo di identificare i più recenti sviluppi della ricerca in questo campo. Abbiamo anche rintracciato le più importanti pubblicazioni citate in questi articoli. Risultati – Gli studi in letteratura confermano il legame tra lo stress e l'insorgenza della depressione. Lo stress sembra anche avere un effetto negativo sulla prognosi dei disturbi cardiovascolari e delle malattie tumorali, ed evidenze preliminari suggeriscono che interventi di gestione dello stress possono migliorare la sopravvivenza in questi pazienti. Situazioni di stress cronico sono associate ad una soppressione della funzionalità del sistema immunitario, mentre stress acuti hanno un effetto sia attivante, sia inibitorio. La liberazione di citochine infiammatorie, mediatori solubili della risposta immunitaria, può indurre la comparsa di sintomi depressivi. Conclusioni – Studi epidemiologici prospettici sono necessari per chiarire il ruolo dello stress nell'insorgenza, decorso e prognosi delle malattie. L'utilizzo di terapie di gestione dello stress allo scopo di migliorare la prognosi dei pazienti con disturbi cardiovascolari, malattie tumorali ed altre malattie croniche, è un'area di ricerca particolarmente interessante. Gli effetti dello stress sul sistema immunitario sono importanti per capire il legame tra stress e malattia. In particolare, l'aumentata produzione di citochine infiammatorie durante situazioni di stress costituisce un possibile meccanismo biologico per spiegare il legame tra stress e depressione.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Indirizzo per la corrispondenza: Dr. CM. Pariante, Section of Clinical Neuropharmacology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, 1 Windsor Walk, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK. Fax: +44-(0)-20-7848.0051 E-mail: spjucmp@iop.kcl.ac.uk

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