Stressing Yourself Sick

June 16, 2008

Every day stresses could be taking a toll on your health.

Doctors say symptoms can range from fatigue to physical pain, with no other explanation.

The symptoms cause more stress.

It's a vicious cycle that can land patients in the hospital.

"Are you angry?  Are you stressed are you depressed?  All of these things have profound effect on your health," explained Dr. Mimi Guarneri, medical director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.  "What I see in my practice is they've been to three other physicians who've told them, there's nothing wrong, don't worry."

Blythe Stokes said for her, it all started with a difficult divorce, the death of her father and several pets.

"So all of that hit at once and it was very difficult to deal with that mentally," said Stokes.

She sought treatment at the Scripps Center For Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

Guarneri said when a person is under stress, hormones are released, triggering a flood of biochemical changes that can speed up the heart and suppress the immune system.

Over time it can be deadly.

Guarneri said the cure is a comprehensive treatment of body, mind and spirit.

The Scripps Center empowers people to get control of their lives by learning to identify stress triggers and controlling the response.

They offer a three-month lifestyle change program, which includes classes like music therapy to help patients de-stress.

For Stokes it's a different kind of therapy. She uses the IS-3 device, an acupuncture-based treatment that hooks up to the ear to help reduce pain, insomnia and anxiety.

Stokes suffers from sciatica and fibromyalgia.

The Scripps Center was one of the first in the country to use the IS3.

For four days, its battery powered micro-chip sends impulses through small needles, which are placed in sensitive spots on the ear.

Dr. Robert Bonakdar, director of pain management, said it sends a message through nerves directly into the brain, often breaking the cycle of pain for the patient.

"It's sort of a pain treatment that goes home with the patient and is minimally invasive," he said.

Stokes has used it more than a dozen times.

"I'm doing things that I used to not be able to do and it's just I'm back to the old Blythe that used to be around," she said.

Bonakdar said before mental anguish transforms into physical pain -- put your stress in check.

"Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweaty? Do you feel like you're less there for that person you're interacting with?"

If so than he suggest seeking treatment.

Music therapy, mediation, good nutrition, exercise and deep breathing are key components of the doctor's prescription to keep from stressing yourself sick.

Health officials said keep in mind, stress can come in many forms, like anger, hostility and grief.