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For the majority of Americans, our daily lives are often full of stress, both at home and on the job. Unfortunately, for many of us, stress has become so commonplace that we now consider it as part of our normal way of life.

Stress isn’t always bad, however. It can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best, for instance, when giving a presentation, or save your life in an emergency situation, such as stomping on the brakes to avoid a car accident. But when stress starts to become chronic, it can cause major damage to your health.

Prolonged and chronic stress can have a detrimental and lasting effect on your health. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Alarmingly, it is estimated that nearly 80-90 percent of doctor visits are due to stress-related illness or conditions.

Although symptoms of stress can vary from person to person, there are some common ones that present themselves. These include, but are not limited to, pain of any kind, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems, frequent colds, headaches, depression, obesity, autoimmune diseases, alcohol or substance abuse and skin conditions.

If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to take action quickly and to see your doctor for a full and thorough physical evaluation, which may include labs for cholesterol, hormone levels, thyroid and any others that might be recommended. Be prepared to have a frank discussion with your physician about what’s going on in your life and your level of stress so that, together, you can work to reduce its harmful impact on your health.

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