Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Too much debt can ruin your health

Emily Crone

It’s an obvious fact that debt puts a strain on your finances, but what wasn’t known until recently is that it can also put a major strain on your health. According to an Associated Press article, a new AP-AOL poll reveals that the more debt you have, the likelier you are to have chronic medical problems.

According to the piece, current economic situations have increased debt stress by 14 percent since 2004. Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist who analyzed the survey results for AP, says 10 million to 16 million people are suffering terribly from debt, which is likely to be negatively impacting their health. The poll found that those who had higher stress were more likely to have trouble with sleeping and concentration, and “…were more prone to getting upset for no good reason.”

According to the poll, those reporting high-debt stress experienced the following health problems:

  • 27 percent had ulcers or digestive tract problems, compared with 8 percent of those with low levels of debt stress.
  • 44 percent had migraines or other headaches, compared with 15 percent.
  • 29 percent suffered severe anxiety, compared with 4 percent.
  • 23 percent had severe depression, compared with 4 percent.
  • 6 percent reported heart attacks, double the rate for those with low debt stress.
  • 51 percent, had muscle tension, including pain in the lower back. That compared with 31 percent of those with low levels of debt stress.

Lavrakas says it isn’t totally certain that debt stress causes health problems, but says the symptoms reported are generally the result of chronic stress according to other medical research. This is because of the body’s “fight or flight” reaction response, which results in the release of adrenaline and cortisol, a stress hormone. “…That helps you react fast in an emergency, but if the body stays in this high gear too long, those chemicals can wreak physical havoc in numerous systems — everything from a rise in blood pressure and heart rate to problems with memory, mood, digestion, even the immune system,”the article says.

According to the AP article, consumer debt, which is mostly from credit cards, was $800 billion in 2004, but is currently $957 billion. Car loans, mortgages and gas prices are up, as is the part of households’ after-tax income that goes to pay off financial obligations.

The poll found that those least likely to have debt stress are men, retirees, empty nesters, college graduates and Republicans. Those suffering the most from debt stress are upwardly mobile, middle-class families in addition to women, couples with small children, low-income working families, Democrats, and high school graduates with no college education.

Have you encountered any health problems from debt stress?

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