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October 10, 2007

Psychological Stress and Disease

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Drs Cohen and Janicki-Deverts); and Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Dr Miller).

JAMA. 2007;298(14):1685-1687. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1685

Despite widespread public belief that psychological stress leads to disease, the biomedical community remains skeptical of this conclusion. In this Commentary, we discuss the plausibility of the belief that stress contributes to a variety of disease processes and summarize the role of stress in 4 major diseases: clinical depression, cardiovascular disease (CVD), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS, and cancer.

Psychological stress occurs when an individual perceives that environmental demands tax or exceed his or her adaptive capacity.1 Operationally, studies of psychological stress focus either on the occurrence of environmental events that are consensually judged as taxing one's ability to cope or on individual responses to events that are indicative of this overload, such as perceived stress and event-elicited negative affect. In this article, the definition of stress excludes psychiatric disorders that may arise as downstream consequences of stressful exposures and also excludes dispositions often linked to stress, such as hostility and type A behavior.

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