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Covid-19 patients with high levels of stress hormone cortisol more likely to die: Lancet

Published on:19 June 2020, 13:30pm IST
The stress hormone cortisol is known to wreak havoc on the body and mind. Turns out, it has a part to play in the recovery of covid-19 patients as well.
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Cortisol and covid-19 is a match made in hell it would seem. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

There is hardly anyone who hasn’t suffered at the hands of stress. Although a normal reaction to challenging situations, stress can wreak havoc on your body like no other. From cardiovascular ailments and weight gain to mental health afflictions—excessive stress is just bad news. As it turns out, stress also has a role to play in the covid-19 saga.

According to a study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, covid-19 patients with excessive levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone, in their blood are more likely to die.

Also read: 7 sneaky but harmful ways in which covid-19 stress is affecting your body

For the uninitiated, highs levels of cortisol in the body as a result of chronic stress can lead to headaches, sleeplessness, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of diabetes amongst other things.

But what does stress have to do with covid-19?
The researchers at the Imperial College of London in the UK state that excessive levels of cortisol in the body during an illness increases chances of infection and can lead to “poor outcomes”.

The observational study, which made the connection between covid-19 and cortisol, studied 535 patients—of whom 403 were confirmed to be SARS-CoV-2 positive. The study found cortisol levels in covid-19 patients to be much higher than others.

In fact, the levels in the covid-19 group were as high as 3241, which according to the researchers is considerably higher, given that after major surgeries levels reach up to a thousand.

Amongst the covid-19 patients, those with a baseline cortisol level of 744 or less survived on average for 36 days. Patients with levels over 744 had an average survival of just 15 days.

covid-19
High levels of cortisol in covid-19 patients could have detrimental effects. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“From an endocrinologist’s perspective, it makes sense that those covid-19 patients who are the sickest will have higher levels of cortisol, but these levels are worryingly high,” explains Professor Waljit Dhillo, Head of Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Imperial College London—and lead author of the study.

That said, cortisol is also important for the body
We know cortisol as the villain in our life these days, but this hormone also plays an important part in regulating certain functions of the endocrine system. For that matter, low levels of cortisol in the body, can lead to fatigue, weakness, and dizziness.

The researchers also state the body needs cortisol to fight illnesses as well, as it triggers changes in the metabolism, heart function, and immune system to help us cope. For ill patients to have low levels cortisol can be life-threatening, according to them.

A cortisol level of 100-200 nm/L is considered healthy. This number dips to nearly zero when we sleep.

While we don’t know whether the stress levels of covid-19 patients before they got infected has any part to play here, one thing is for sure: we must stress less and stay at home. That’s the only way we can beat covid-19.

(With inputs from agencies)

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