The Long Term Damage Caused By Anxiety

Woman Having Panic Attack in Crowd
Credit: Dreamstime

In the past, panic attacks have most often been thought of as temporary traumatic events, experiences that are paralyzing in the moment but eventually pass and do not result in any long-term damage. However, recent studies have shown that the damage caused by these anxiety attacks and their symptoms is more permanent than previously thought.

Effects on Your Digestive System

Has anxiety ever caused the sensation of butterflies in your chest or cramps in the pit of your stomach? What you are feeling is actually intestinal inflammation triggered in response to your anxious mental state. Continual recurrence of these gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of your anxiety can have permanent consequences. Research has concluded that if your colon is kept in a constant state of irritation, you are at increased risk of developing Crohn's Disease. A chronic inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's Disease is incurable and requires bowel resection surgery in up to 75% of cases.

Effects on Your Cardiovascular System

Have you ever felt your heart beat uncontrollably at the onset of a panic attack followed by sharp pains in your chest? In the moment, these frightening physical symptoms of anxiety can often be confused for a heart attack but are not typically life threatening. However, the long-term effects of these sensations are not so benign. The increased heart rate and chest pain you experience during periods of heightened anxiety can increase your blood pressure and blood lipid levels. The combination of these two factors commonly results in increased buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries, a chronic condition known as atherosclerosis. This disease is the primary cause of both heart attack and stroke.

Effects on Your Immune System

Have you noticed that you feel sick frequently or struggle with constant fatigue? The culprit may be an immune system compromised by chronic anxiety. When you experience an anxiety episode, your body acts as if it is under attack. Stress hormones are released which trigger the production of white blood cells and protect the body from injury or illness. While this is useful during occasional instances in which the body is under attack, persistently high levels of anxiety effectively overwork and desensitize the immune system. The result is a compromised immune response that cannot protect you when a real threat materializes, leaving your body vulnerable to viruses and infections. The prospect of a weakened immune response is particularly troubling in relation to cancer. Though the research is preliminary, studies have shown that an immune system compromised by chronic anxiety can allow for a higher incidence of cancer.

These recent scientific developments have shown it is more important than ever to take immediate action to control your anxiety. Preventing anxiety attacks is not only critical for reclaiming your happiness and feeling like yourself again, it is also essential for protecting your long-term health and quality of life.



Paul has been interested in medical research since his first organic chemistry class in college. He was a high school biology teacher for 32 years until retiring to spend more time reading, hiking, and camping with his wife and two dogs.

Email Paul at [email protected].


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