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Stress Boosts Likelihood of Catching a Cold

What the Study Showed
How it was Done
Why It's Important

What the Study Showed
Colds are far more likely to develop in people experiencing severe, chronic stress than they are in people without such pressures, according to the findings of this carefully designed 1998 study published in the journal Health Psychology.

How it was Done
The 256 healthy adults who completed this study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh were initially interviewed about stressors in their lives, such as unemployment and family problems. They also underwent personality tests and were asked to describe their sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Blood and urine samples were also collected.

The subjects were then inoculated with common cold viruses (they self-administered nasal drops containing a low dose of a cold virus) and were quarantined for five days.. Nasal secretions were taken and analyzed for viruses daily. Participants were also asked whether they were experiencing any respiratory symptoms or discomfort such as a sore throat.

Everyone was then asked to return to the center four and five weeks later, when they were interviewed again about life stressors and monitored for the development of the cold and related symptoms.

Why It's Important
Subjects who described severe, chronic stress in their lives (lasting a month or more) were twice as likely to develop a cold within four to five weeks of being exposed to the cold viruses than were those who did not describe such chronic and severe stress.

In fact, the longer the stress lasted and the more severe it was, the greater the risk of succumbing to the illness. Conversely, acute but short-lived stressful life events (less than one month long) were not associated with a significantly increased risk of developing a cold.

Interestingly, problems with relationships and work turned out to be key stressors that raised the risk for developing a cold; lifestyle factors, such as smoking, inactivity and poor sleep, only slightly increased the risk of illness.

Source: Cohen S, et al. Type of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in healthy adults. Health Psychology1998;17:214-223.


Date Published: 01/18/2001
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