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Are the dangers of stress sufficiently recognized?

March 1, 2011

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“There’s a lot of controversy” about recognizing stress as a legitimate medical concern, said Steven Sauter, coordinator of NIOSH’s Work Organization Stress-Related Disorders Program and co-author of NIOSH’s document “Stress … at work.” Both employers and those in the medical industry still feel some uncertainty about the health effects of stress, “although the weight of the evidence certainly points toward associations between stress and a variety of health outcomes,” Sauter said.

Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY, pointed out that the National Institutes of Health, the Institute of Medicine and many cardiologists acknowledge the link between stress and hypertension and cardiovascular disease – although some in the field believe the medical community’s response to stress has not been strong enough.

“It’s not as accepted as I would like it to be,” said Lyle H. Miller, chairman and CEO of Boston-based Stress Directions Inc., “but it’s much more accepted than it was 20 years ago or 30 years ago.”

He laid part of that blame on the structure of the medical system in the United States and its dependence on specialization. “If you go to a cardiologist, he has no idea about your tension headaches; he has no idea about your stomach and bowel problems,” which can be indicators of stress, Miller said. “It used to be you would go to the doctor and would run through your symptoms and they would really treat you as a whole person,” he said. “But now they want to treat the individual symptoms of a specific system. And we don’t function that way – we function as a whole.”

Miller also believes doctors are too inclined to medicate when they do not have the full picture of what is causing cardiovascular or other stress-related health problems in patients. “If your only tool is a hammer, then the whole world is a giant nail,” he said. 

But this medication can lead to additional health problems for workers, as they now are subject to the myriad of side effects of various medications – some of which could impair their workplace performance, he said. 

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