Stress May Increase Cold Symptom Severity

Published Online: Wednesday, November 13, 2013
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Stress may worsen symptoms experienced by patients diagnosed with upper respiratory illnesses, rendering patients slower to react and less alert, according to a recent study.

The prospective study, published in the October 2013 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology, analyzed whether patients with a cold or respiratory illness who had been exposed to stressful events or who experienced high levels of daily stress suffered more severe impairments than those with low stress levels or than healthy individuals. A total of 356 healthy young adults completed questionnaires that measured negative life events and personality traits. Participants rated their alertness and completed a reaction test. Overall, 120 patients developed an upper respiratory illness and completed a symptom checklist and a questionnaire measuring recent daily stress and were retested for alertness and reaction time. Participants who did not develop a cold within 12 weeks of the study were retested and used as controls.

The results indicated an association between the frequency and severity of daily stress with symptom severity. Stressful life events, however, were not associated with more severe symptoms. Cold patients with high levels of chronic stress, stemming from both daily life and stressful events, had the slowest reaction times and were the least alert compared with all other participants. The results remained significant even after personality traits and health-related behaviors were accounted for.

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