Mental/emotional stress slows the healing process

Research shows that cutting stress could shorten hospital stays by speeding up the healing process. One study showed that stress caused by a 30-minute argument with a spouse is enough to slow wound healing by a day.

A Ohio State University team focused on 42 married couples and found that blisters on hostile couples healed at a rate 60% slower than the healing rate for non-hostile couples.

The team told the journal Archives of General Psychiatry the findings showed that hospitals should try to minimize stress for patients ahead of surgery.

The researchers focused on a group of 42 couples. Each couple was admitted into the University’s General Clinical Research Center for two, 24-hour-long visits, separated by a two-month interval.

During each visit, both the husband and wife were fitted with a small suction device that created eight identical tiny blisters on their arms.

The skin was removed from each blister and another device placed directly over each small wound, forming a protective bubble, from which researchers could sample the fluids that normally fill such blisters.

The couples also completed questionnaires intended to measure their level of stress at the beginning of the experiment.

During the first visit, each person was asked to talk to his or her spouse for several minutes about some characteristic or behavior that he or she would like to change. This was a supportive, positive discussion.

During the second visit, they were asked to talk about an area of disagreement something that provoked strong feelings.

Analysis showed wounds took a day longer to heal after the arguments than they did after the supportive discussion.

Wounds on the hostile couples healed at only 60% of the rate of couples considered to have low levels of hostility.

Levels of a key immune system chemicals that control wound healing, were also particularly elevated in the hostile couples.

High levels of something called interleukin 6 levels are linked to long-term inflammation, which in turn is implicated in a range of age-related illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and arthritis.

Researcher Professor Jan Kiecolt-Glaser said: “In our past wound-healing experiments, we looked at more severe stressful events.

“This was just a marital discussion that lasted only a half-hour. The fact that even this can bump the healing back an entire day for minor wounds says that wound-healing is a really sensitive process.”

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