Trauma and physical health

As a result of psychological trauma, many changes can occur in the body related to stress response, nervous system function and immune system. Psychological trauma activates the body's stress response, which triggers the "fight or flight" response. This reaction leads to activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and muscle tension. 

Long-term stress can cause a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system and a chronic stress state, which can affect several organ systems and thus physical well-being and illness in many different ways. 

The functioning of the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) is part of the body's stress response, and psychological trauma can cause its regulation to be disrupted. This means that the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol from the adrenal cortex, can be excessive or irregular. Psychological trauma can also affect the immune system by changing the function of the HPA axis. Due to excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system and stress hormones, immune cells can work less efficiently, which can expose you to various infections and diseases. Similarly, the inflammatory response can be disturbed, which can cause chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. Often, psychological trauma also causes sleep disturbances such as insomnia, nightmares and restless nights. Lack of sleep can also weaken the immune system along with other harmful health effects.

In addition, psychological trauma can lead to sensitization of the nervous system, in which case the reactions of the brain and nervous system can be stronger and more sensitive to various stimuli and stressors. This can cause the body to be in a constant state of alertness, where stress reactions are sensitively activated, even if no real threat is present. This state of readiness can cause chronic stress and affect physical well-being. 

Many traumatized individuals experience various pain symptoms, such as back pain, headaches, muscle tension and stomach pains. This may be due to the body's constant state of readiness and the effect of stress on the nervous system. 

Psychological trauma can also affect eating behavior. Some people respond to trauma by overeating or bingeing on comfort foods, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. Still others may lose their appetite and lose weight adversely. Eating disorders can cause many physical health problems, such as nutritional deficiencies, heart problems, and hormonal imbalances. 

The physiological action mechanisms described above are not separate, but can influence each other and form a complex interaction. Individual differences and other factors, such as the severity of the trauma, its duration and the individual's own resources, affect how psychological trauma manifests itself in physical well-being. 

In connection with psychological traumatization, it is important that the physical symptoms and illnesses are also properly treated at the doctor's office, and are not interpreted as, for example, "delusional illness" or attention seeking.

© 2023 Manu Vesterinen