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Monday, September 04, 2006

General Adaptation Syndrome

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) promoted by Hans Selye who found that the injection of toxic gland preparations into lab animals resulted in a “sick” syndrome that included “activity and enlargement of the adrenal cortex, atrophy of the thymus gland and lymph nodes, and ...ulcers”. These same symptoms of a general syndrome also resulted from exposure to other stressors such as heat, cold, and infections. Overall, the GAS is considered a process where constant or repeated stress can result in disease through the body’s attempt to adapt.
There are three stages to the General Adaptation Syndrome:
1. Alarm
2. Resistance
3. Exhaustion

In the Alarm stage the body responds to the stressor by increasing the levels of ACTH and secretion of the adrenal glands which results in the well known “fight or flight” response. This is a generalized stress response with numerous systems of the body showing some degree of change but without specific targets. Overall, the muscles become more tense, the heart rate increase and blood pressure increases as the body prepares to respond.
The resistance stage is where the body “mobilizes”. Here the arousal of the body is now targeted into specific organs or organ systems. “Specificity of adaptation.... the channeling of the stress response into the specific organ system most capable of dealing with it” is a prime characteristic of this stage. Normally this works fine, however, when the body is exposed to chronic or repeated stress without the ability to “calm down” in between, the organs become overexposed to a high state of arousal and may become unable to continuously repair themselves or perform the task for which they are best suited. After long term exposure, the body re-adjusts itself to the higher pace and may begin to malfunction. Just like any machine, the body need time for maintenance and repair in order to perform correctly.
The final stage is the exhaustion phase. After prolonged stress the body has used up its reserve and is no longer able to function properly as the organ systems exposed to the constant bombardment of stress begin to break down. ACTH increases and symptoms similar to the first stage are common and the body may try to compensate by shifting the load from the weakened organ system to the next most able system in an attempt to protect itself.

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