Emotional Processing & Illness

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gillray2It has never really been a problem for doctors to connect emotions with physical disease after the disease has occurred.  The patient is devastated by the news they have cancer, traumatised by an accident or operation, depressed by their loss of function after a heart attack.

Until recently, the idea that emotional difficulties occur before the physical disease develops and be a causal factor has been less well accepted by the medical profession.  However,  the demonstration of links between stress and the immune system has changed that.  Now, it is much more widely accepted that a lowered immune resistance can set the scene for many different physical illnesses and disorders.  But that only refers to one type of emotional situation (stress) and one physical system (the immune system).  It is likely that there are a range of emotional difficulties operating via a range of physical systems which can potentially effect the development of physical illness.

The third and most confusing area is the manifestation or symptoms of physical disease.  Patients know that doctors want to hear about physical symptoms.  Many surveys show that in primary and secondary care, patients present physical illness symptoms to doctors where emotional issues are central.  They may have numerous physical tests and assessments with no clear medical diagnosis emerging.  Emotions are not just mental events; they affect the body.  They have physical manifestations and affect metabolism, the endocrine system, digestion, breathing, heart rate and muscle tension.

What are the long term effects of faulty emotional processing, controlling, inhibiting or not understanding emotional experience?  Can this be linked with physical illness?  Are emotional processing difficulties the result of having an illness or a major contributor to the causality and presentation of physical problems?