Stress illness, otherwise known as Psychophysiologic Disorder or PPD, may not be a household word, but the conditions that result from it are all too common. We feature a leading expert in the field of PPD, Dr. David D. Clarke, in our JCT interview series. He was kind enough to shed some light on what PPD is and how it affects an estimated five to ten million people in the United States.
Dr. Clarke is the President of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (PPDA) in the U.S., and his biography and stellar qualifications follow the interview.
Dr. Clarke, could you please define the term “Stress Illness?”
The term “stress illness” describes an illness that is not linked to any disease of an organ or structure in the body, but one that diagnostic tests can’t explain. Often, people have physical symptoms that cause them discomfort or pain, but tests run by their doctor don’t show a cause for the symptoms. Do you know that gardening can somehow relieve people’s stress? If you know someone who’s suffering from this condition, they can focus their attention on gardening. Visit this website nbglandscapes.com.au to read some tips for designing your landscape.
Most of these patients are actually suffering from symptoms and illness caused by stress, which can be unrecognized or not readily apparent, hence the term “stress illness”, otherwise known as PPD.
How does it differ from the regular stress we experience every day?
Everyone experiences stress, but there are two main differences between regular stress and stress illness. To lessen your stress on your baby’s heartbeat you can use baby heartbeat monitor and feel secured. For a stress-free dental care for your teeth just go to headaches and tooth decay. The first is the degree and high level of stress which is producing physical symptoms such as stomach upset, headaches, and body pain on a regular basis. The second is that the person is not aware of the magnitude of the stress they are coping with because they have been living with it consistently.
What are the effects of Stress Illness on the body?
The effects of stress illness can manifest in different ways, but some of the most common conditions caused by it are constant headaches, ringing in the ears, difficulty breathing and swallowing, chest pain, gastrointestinal issues, body pain, and numbness in the extremities. This is by no means a complete list, but it demonstrates the fact that it can affect any part of the body or multiple parts of the body at the same time.
In your book They Can’t Find Anything Wrong!: 7 Keys to Understanding, Treating, and Healing Stress Illness, you define five types of stress that can cause illness. Can you please give a brief description of each one?
- The first and most common would be current stress, which is a situation such as a personal crisis in your family or work life.
- The second is prolonged effects of childhood stress, which encompasses child abuse and neglect, verbal abuse and subtle put downs, and non-affection.
- The third is post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, which is common among those in the military and veterans. It can also apply to anyone who has gone through any trauma or terrifying experience which deeply impacted them.
- The fourth category is Depression, and the person may not even be aware that they have it because they don’t ‘feel sad’ or have obvious symptoms.
- The fifth is Anxiety Disorders, which range from general anxiety to situational anxiety. Often, the person has been living with such a high level of anxiety for so long, that they can’t differentiate it from regular anxiety.
How prevalent is “stress illness?”
There has definitely been an increase in PPD coinciding with the downturn in the economy and resulting job losses, as well as uncertainty about the future of the economy. It’s estimated that five to ten million people have “stress illness,” which is on par for the prevalence of diabetes.
Many people know that something is not right, that the symptoms are real and not just in their head. However, they blame themselves and they may think of themselves as mentally weak, or a hypochondriac, or been told that it’s their imagination even though that is not the situation. It also has a lot to do with environment, which is is as technical as it may sound, you need to invest in a good Chesapeake HVAC system to ensure that you live in ideal conditions that will not contribute to stress.
I relate it to the example of an Olympic weight lifter. The athlete is very strong, and can lift a tremendous amount of weight, but eventually, if enough weight is added, he won’t be able to hold it up. The same is true of people suffering from PPD, because they can only handle so much of the stress before it begins to physically impact their body, no matter how hard they try to carry that extra weight.
What can someone who thinks they have “stress illness” do to approach the subject with their doctor?
First, the patient should undergo an initial evaluation and diagnostic tests to search for anything that is causing their symptoms, such as a disease, organ disorder, etc. Once every other cause has been ruled out, it would be appropriate for the patient to discuss the possibility of PPD with their doctor. They can provide them with information about it, as well as the results of the hidden stress screening questionnaire, which can be found here: http://www.stressillness.com/overview.php.
Once a diagnosis is made, they can then chart a course for treatment, which could include learning coping techniques, lifestyle changes that could reduce or eliminate the cause of stress, mental health screening for anxiety, depression, and PTSD, counseling, or medication.
What are ways that doctors can become better at diagnosing and treating Psychophysiologic Disorder?
There is still much to be done in this area, including the education of practitioners in the recognition of the disorder, the symptoms that may present themselves in a patient, and in general, get a sense of what is going on with the patient besides the physical conditions. You can also read more about this review of the supplement Nerve Support Formula for more information on alternative recovery methods. Doctors can take time to ask a few questions about what is going on in the patient’s life to better determine what is contributing to their condition, be it a life change, ongoing stress from work or home life, past traumas, or potential mental health issues.
David D. Clarke, MD is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Gastroenterology Emeritus and Assistant Director at the Center for Ethics at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). He is president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association (U.S.), Clinical Advisor to the Stress Illness Recovery Practitioners Association (U.K.) and a Clinical Lecturer with Pacific University. He is board-certified in Gastroenterology, practiced internal medicine portland or, Oregon from 1984 to 2009.
In surveys of physicians by Portland Monthly magazine in the metropolitan area, Dr. Clarke was twice named one of the “Top Doctors” in his specialty. He has received numerous awards for patient care and is a member of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine, the American Psychosomatic Society, and the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association. He is also a national and international speaker on the subject of Stress Illness to educate doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals about the specifics of PPD.