Psychosocial stress and susceptibility to upper respiratory tract illness in an adult population sample

J M Cobb, A Steptoe

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103 Citations (SciVal)


OBJECTIVE: To assess the influence of life event stress and hassles, and the moderating effects of psychological coping style, social support, and family environment, on susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infectious illness.

METHOD: One hundred seven adults aged 18 to 65 years took part in a 15-week study. Measures of life event stress were obtained for the 12 months preceding the study and for the study period itself, and social support, information seeking and avoidant coping styles, and family environment were assessed. Hassles and perceived stress were measured weekly, whereas dysphoric mood and changes in personal health practices (smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, and sleep patterns) were assessed at three weekly intervals. Episodes of upper respiratory tract infectious illness were verified by clinical examination.

RESULTS: During the study period, 29 individuals experienced at least one clinically verified episode of upper respiratory tract illness. There were no differences in cigarette smoking, sleep habits, or exercise between those who did and did not become ill but alcohol consumption was lower among those who experienced verified episodes. Risk of infectious illness was greater in those who experienced high life event stress both before and during the study period, but the impact of life events was buffered by an avoidant coping style. Strict family organization was associated with illness risk. The three weeks preceding illness onset were characterised by high levels of perceived stress, but also by a decrease in the number of hassles reported.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that under naturalistic conditions, the influence of stressful experience on risk of infectious illness is moderated by psychosocial resources. Variations in personal health practices do not seem to be responsible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-412
Number of pages9
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1996


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