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Stress and Physical Illness - The Anxiety Related Question

Updated on June 30, 2015

You suffer with anxiety related disorders and have been stressed for a very long time. Your medical notes are full of this fact because you have been getting your anti-anxiety medication from your doctor. You may have reached crisis point a few times or even been admitted to a psychiatric unit and each time more anxiety notes are added to your medical file.

So, you feel physically ill sometimes as everyone does, you feel the need to see your doctor and yet again you get the distinct impression your doctor feels stress or anxiety is causing your physical suffering. The doctor asks you if you have been feeling anxious lately or are you stressed out and you will no doubt have to answer to the affirmative.You leave the surgery feeling despondent, probably more anxious and the danger is you may even begin to feel every physical ailment you get must be anxiety related.

You may have been worrying that the stress caused by your anxiety disorder may lead to a heart attack. A doctor is now insinuating a mental health problem can cause bad physical health. This is enough in itself to fuel more anxiety. Where do we draw lines? It can be confusing for both patient and doctor.

Any pain will feel more severe when anxious
Any pain will feel more severe when anxious | Source

Common physical symptoms of anxiety can often mimic other physical illness. We should be accepting of the fact that the doctor may have some dilemma with a patient who is known to have anxiety problems. What often complicates it all further is that the anxious person may also have health anxiety and this may be recognised by the doctor.

If you are anxious any pain will feel more severe, but by the same token, any pain if severe and chronic can make you feel anxious. If you think hard enough, you will be able to work out if you have become more anxious since feeling the pain or the other way around.

Some illnesses have been closely connected to those who suffer with anxiety problems. Take irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for example. IBS appears to co-exist with anxiety problems consistently. This is not always the fact though so anxiety cannot be entirely responsible for IBS. If you feel a doctor is blaming all your IBS symptoms on anxiety, be aware that you may have food intolerance so this should really be checked out. There are also blood tests to rule out other disease. If you suffer diarrhoea then the intestinal movement is obviously speeded up. Being anxious and certainly having panic attacks will speed up our metabolism.

The jury is still out on emphatically blaming anxiety alone for IBS but it does appear that being anxious makes you more prone to an IBS flare up. Again, IBS can be a very painful and irritating condition, enough to increase your stress.

Do I have fibromyalgia?
Do I have fibromyalgia? | Source

Another condition that seems to follow a cycle of anxiety and pain is that of fibromyalgia. This is a painful condition and again seems to have flare ups. I have this condition and know that if I am going through a stressful time, my fibromyalgia symptoms will feel worse. Research has suggested that people who suffer from fibromyalgia have a hypersensitivity to pain. Now, as I already said, anxious people tend to feel pain more severely than people who are not anxious so perhaps there is good reason for the co-existence of anxiety and fibromyalgia. The true single cause of fibromyalgia is not known so if you suffer with it and have anxiety problems, don’t feel your anxiety is to blame. You just might feel it’s harder to cope with the pain. Remember though that pain equally can exacerbate an anxiety state.

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Acid reflux problems are often loosely seen by doctors to be connected to anxiety. The problem certainly can be made worse by an anxious state. Did being anxious cause acid reflux? No. Acid reflux happens as a result of a defective sphincter muscle between the stomach and oesophagus. Very often though, you will find a doctor repeating that unwanted question - yes but are you going through a stressful time or do you have anxiety problems? Truth is if you are anxious or stressed your acid reflux problems are likely to flare up more.

Why do anxious people tend to feel illness more? An anxious person is a tense person. Stress causes our muscles to tighten up. Tension in the head and neck for example can create headaches and migraines. Occasional chest pain and stomach upsets are quite common in a very anxious person. Add to all this a difficulty sleeping and overall general fatigue and, as you can imagine, if you are faced with a physical illness you will find it harder than others to cope with that illness. It is common to hear a dentist or a doctor utter those words just relax!

It is concluded that whilst doctors can be too quick to put a symptom down to anxiety in those with an anxiety history, no one should ever assume any physical symptom is anxiety related without ruling out other medical illnes first. Always seek the advice of your doctor and of course any good doctor will rule out true physical illness. It may feel like you are not being heard sometimes but doctors can’t afford to make mistakes. Their jobs rely on them getting it right.

It is very true also that because you are suffering with anxiety, you will be feeling whatever is wrong more intensely. You may, in the doctor’s mind display an exaggerated reaction but to you it really does feel that bad. It is in your interest to ask the doctor politely to ignore the fact you have an anxiety history in ascertaining what is ailing you and to avoid clouding the issue.

Health anxiety is something different and best discussed as a separate issue in another article.


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