When I was in naturopathic medical school I learned about mental and emotional stress as risk factors in many disease processes. In the last eight years in practice I have realized that stress is much more prevalent than I ever imagined as a factor in patients' diseases or inability to get well quickly.
The reason stress is such a health concern is because mental and emotional stress releases hormones and other chemicals in the body that impact blood pressure, heart rate, liver function, and alertness along with other bodily functions.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disease process that confirms that stress can and does have physical effects in the body that can be detrimental to patients over time. This disease has been brought to the public’s attention because of veterans coming back from combat.
Many people may not be aware that cancer patients can also suffer from PTSD after hearing the diagnosis of cancer. A small percentage of patients actually develop full-blown PTSD and many patients will experience some level of depression or at least one or more symptoms of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, uncontrolled thoughts about cancer, severe anxiety, nightmares or feeling emotionally muted towards friends and family members.
Research done at Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina has found that 40 percent of the cancer patients that were diagnosed with cancer still had at least one PTSD symptoms10 years after treatment. 1 in 12 patients, about 8 percent had full-blown PTSD. There were over 50 percent of the patients that didn’t have any symptoms 13 years after their diagnosis.
The study was based on 566 patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The researchers noted that patients that had a lower income status tended to have more symptoms because they do not have adequate access to health care.
One solution for those patients that had at least one symptom or full-blown PTSD is guided imagery. Guided imagery has been well-researched to help reduce effects of PTSD in cancer patient.
Guided imagery allows patients to have control over their thoughts about their diagnosis.