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Healing and Stress

Dateline: 07/09/98

Researchers in Columbus, Ohio recently announced that stress can stretch the total time it takes for a wound to heal by as much as 40%. This study parallels other studies on the significant effects of stress on the human immune system.

The study focused on mucosal tissue in the mouth. Wounds in this type of tissue generally heal three to four times faster than wounds elsewhere on the body. Eleven dental students received mucosal wounds in the study. The wounds were photographed daily. Approximately five to six days after the initial wound was produced, hydrogen peroxide was swabbed on the wound. When the wound failed to produce peroxide bubbles for two consecutive days, it was considered healed.

During this process, the students filled out questionnaires that gauged their stress levels. Blood samples were also drawn to measure the levels of key immune system components. The whole process was repeated when the students were about to take their first exams of the year.

The second "testing" wounds took approximately 40% longer to heal when compared to the original wounds. The stress of exams seemed to be enough to severely depress the levels of interleukin-1, a key component of the immune response. Levels were cut by almost two-thirds when compared to the original samples. Researchers ruled out test anxiety since the students had previously been successful test takers.

The drop-off in levels occurred within the first week of the wound healing process, which suggests that supportive therapies may be successful in counteracting the harmful effects of stress on the wound healing process.

What do you think? Have you noticed that wounds take longer to heal when you are under heavy duress? How might we design preventive and supportive therapies for patients about to undergo major surgery? Come over to the Biology Forum and share your thoughts, opinions, and feelings. 'Til next time...

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