Stress is a word that finds aplenty space in each of our lives these days hindering us from delivering our best performance and affecting health levels greatly. There are different perspectives to stress. For someone who is faced with hazardous environmental factors there is a definite thought process running in the person’s mind about the soon-to-happen events and this process involving coping with the scenario either changing the environment or the person’s own thought process to match the environmental factors is defined as stress. Stress is also the reaction/process that occurs within any individual when he/she is faced with demands that exceed the resources available to deal with it and when individuals fail to meet these demands hence leading to negative impact on the person’s life. Stress brings in a response from the person similar to those that are experienced while under danger and these include fatigue, feeling uneasy or quite shaken over.
Stress experienced by a person can be measured using three methods and this involves measuring the stimuli, evaluating cognitive response or bodily response. The body has two systems-the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system and the autonomic nervous that react to stress caused/induced either due to environmental factors or by the very person experiencing it. The ANS involves sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways that are responsible for regulating homeostasis (maintaining internal stability irrespective of external factors). Maintaining this internal stability is mainly the job of neuronal and hormonal control systems. ANS is one part of the nervous system that’s responsible for all involuntary actions such as regulating heart rate (HR), blood pressure, respiration and sweating. The HPA that’s part of the neuroendocrine system plays a major role in controlling reactions to stress and manages mood, digestion, sexuality, immune system, emotions and energy storage. Its both, the ANS and HPA that work together to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium thereby enabling the body to remain stable.
Allostasis: This is nothing but response to rapid changes in the environment such as exposure to pathogens such as bacteria/virus or a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. In each stressful situation the individual is in a state of arousal and each internal system starts adapting to changes. Starting from the brain (sympathetic system is activated) the response moves forward deactivating parasympathetic system in due process from ANS alongside the release of hormones in the HPA. Though this response might be beneficial in the short term it does come with its very own bagful of disadvantages. Allostasis has long-term impact on the body called as allostatic load due to repeated stress exposure. Allostasis can cause serious consequences to our health permanently damaging the nervous, cardiovascular and neuronal systems. Stress has a grave impact on inflammation, cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune-related diseases, obesity, diabetes, psychiatric conditions and cancer. It affects homeostasis, especially that of cardiovascular regulation and this makes it more vulnerable to acute stress.
Its both the ANS and the HPA axis that are activated in times of acute stress. Its both the HPA and the sympathetic nervous system that are activated frequently in depressed and anxious patients. Heart rate variability (HRV) is due to changing modulations of vagal and sympathetic control of the heart and is taken to be an estimate of autonomic HR control. HRV is linked to acute or chronic stress, recovery from stress, depression and congestive heart failure. Blood pressure changes are the result of combined changes of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (SNS and PNS) and HRV indicates individual contributions of PNS and SNS.
In real life situations are unpredictable and most of the challenges induce a rapid increase or decrease in HR. Stress and most of the stressful situations pave way for multiple emotional, cognitive, physiological and somatic symptoms. Vagal modulations of the heart are sensitive to emotional stress irrespective of the age, gender or fitness level. Chronic work stress (greater efforts with lower rewards) is linked to low HRV during work, leisure and sleep. Psychosocial stress is not harmful but if it continues for a long time it affects cardiovascular health.
HRV Measurements & Stress
HRV measurements are useful tools in measuring stress in real-life situations along with subjective evaluation of stress. Different emotions affect HRV in different ways-anger and hostility produce a sympathetically dominated HRV while appreciation puts HRV at the other end of the spectrum. In general, those who have a positive outlook in life experience less overall stress. There are also solid evidences that physical symptoms of stress are linked negatively to workplace effectiveness. When HRV improves productivity at workplace too increases. There are also proofs that individuals with stage 1 and 2 BP can regulate BP levels taking it to normal readings without the help of medication when they regulate HRV. Finetuning our emotional response can have a positive impact on our response to stress. By controlling HRV it is possible to wash away the negative spirits of people who require help with their problems of stress, depression and anxiety.
Orthostatic stress involves measuring vital parameters when the individual is lying flat with face facing up (supine) or sitting relaxed or standing upright. HR and HRV measurements taken during this time are highly capable of predicting chronic stress levels of an individual. The blood volume is redistributed when a person changes positions, systolic BP decreases and HR increases reaching its peak value some 15 seconds after standing up. Orthostatic HR is the difference between the HRs at supine rest and standing positions. If HR in lying position is 56 and at standing position is 80 the orthostatic HR is 24 beats per minute (bmp). As there are no proper guidelines to perform orthostatic test its up to the individual to decide upon a dedicated time of day and perform the test in the same way to measure HR. Measuring orthostatic HR is not an easy task for working professionals as they can miss out on test schedules or abstain from protocols that can lead to inconclusive test results.
The patent here provides a method for measuring stress by measuring a HR component, a HRV component and an activity level component with an assessment system at a plurality of times. The values are measured to determine whether they are predetermined relationships. If there is any deviation from normal relationships there is every possibility of the presence of stress in the individual. The method also has a provision to measure stress by detecting activity level and measuring HR with a system configured for attachment to an exposed region of the body of the individual. Thirdly, there is a method for measuring stress that includes detecting provocations and measuring HR with a system configured for attachment to an exposed region of a body of a user. The invention provides the patient with an apparatus for measuring orthostatic HR and HRV in the individual without any patient required to follow a set of protocols for an accurate reading. Daily stress levels are obtained as a combination of HR and HRV, HRV and provocation, HR and activity level, HR and provocation and provocation and activity.
As the invention takes measurements at automatically designated times there is no requirement that the patient sacrifices a separate time period for performing the orthostatic test. This helps the patient refrain from missed test measurements, helps him/her go about with the daily routine but also measure stress levels and establish a trend in these stress levels. Identifying such a trend helps in identifying and preventing serious heart ailments. If there are abnormal stress levels experienced there can be a mobile phone application that gets automatically initiated thereby calling in someone for medical assistance. The patent was published on July 2nd, 2015 and for more details on the patent do visit any of the following sites:
United States Patent and Trademark Office: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=%22measuring+chronic+stress%22&OS=
European Patent Office: https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publicationDetails/biblio?DB=EPODOC&II=0&ND=3&adjacent=true&locale=en_EP&FT=D&date=20150702&CC=US&NR=2015182129A1&KC=A1
World Intellectual Property Organization: https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=US142540147&_cid=P11-JXX6BW-17739-1
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