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The Swirl of Stress



The pressure of an approaching storm can manifest itself in physical ailments. You've got to take care of you.


Not all of a hurricane's damage is obvious. Even before one blows through, it can wreak havoc, and this we may not see. It is the damage we suffer because of stress. "We are geared to short-term stress," Dr. Paul Lewis says. "It is the 'fight-or-flight phenomenon' in which our whole physiology gears up to kill the saber-toothed tiger. "So short-term stress is actually a good thing: The body can (alert) the immune system. But with stresses coming over a longer period - like the approach of a hurricane - that's a bit more of a problem," says Lewis, medical director of the Turley Family Health Center of Morton Plant Mease, Clearwater.

"The longer this period of psychological stress, the immune system switches to detrimental changes . . . antibody responses are not as high."

This could result, he said, in slower wound healing, our inability to fight off infection. "It is very clear that the autoimmune illnesses such as lupus and fibromyalgia" will be worsened by chronic stress.

"Advanced age and chronic disease increase our vulnerability to stress-related decreases in immune function. It makes it all that much harder for the body to regulate itself."

Dr. Andrew Alexander, an emergency physician at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, notes that stress can elevate blood pressure, causing strokes or heart attacks. Less dramatic results include secreting more stomach acid, which could exacerbate ulcers.

"When people get uptight, they tend to forget things, such as taking their medications or following diet restrictions," Alexander said. "Not staying as hydrated or as nutritionally fit as they should could elevate the blood sugar in many diabetics."

There are precautions you can take, as well as some you should take, to help yourself medically when a hurricane is threatening.

Lewis, also an assistant professor at USF, says, "Anything you can control will reduce your sense of stress. You want to adjust your attitude as much as possible - look at this as a challenge, rather than a threat."

Before an evacuation is ordered, Lewis adds, "Come up with a plan to make it through. Develop a support network to talk with."

And in case of an evacuation, "You need to know what you are going to do, where you are going to . . . Make sure your diet is nutritious and balanced. Practice relaxation techniques - yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises."

A hurricane warning is also a reminder to check your supply of prescription medications. If you are not getting refills at a local drugstore, the typical few days of warning won't give you time to reorder by mail.

The solution: State law allows pharmacists to dispense a one-time emergency refill of up to a 72-hour supply of prescribed medication, says pharmacist Susan Gordon, who works in a CVS pharmacy in Tampa.

"If the prescription was filled originally by CVS, you can go into any of our pharmacies all over the country and get that refill. If you are not a CVS customer, just provide us with your pharmacy information and we will call that pharmacy."

And if you use the mail for refills, take the prescription container to the pharmacy "and we would call the mail house for you and refill that prescription at our store."

If the governor has proclaimed a state of emergency because of a disaster, any Florida pharmacy can dispense up to a 30-day supply.

And, Gordon says, the trip to the pharmacy is the time to buy a prepackaged first aid kit or get the items you need to fill the kit you will take with you in case of evacuation.

Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at (727) 893-8496 or [email protected]

Credit: Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 12:00pm]


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