Everyone experiences stress now and then, and that’s not always a bad thing. Stress may be routine, related to everyday pressures and responsibilities, brought on by a sudden negative change, such as job loss, divorce, or illness, or traumatic from a major accident or disaster.

Stress can motivate us to prepare or perform, but long-term or chronic stress, known as the silent killer, may be harmful to our health, causing headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability and vulnerability to viral infections, flu, or common colds. Prolonged stress can even lead to mental illness.

According to a new survey from the American Psychological Association, average stress levels in the U.S. rose from 4.9 in 2014 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale, and there has been an increase in number of adults who experience extreme stress, with 24% reporting they were highly stressed compared with 18% the year before.

According to the survey, those who reported their health as only fair or poor had higher stress levels than those who identified their health as very good or excellent.

When elevated, cortisol, the stress hormone, interferes with learning, memory, immune function, and bone density and may lead to increases in weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart disease.

Andrew Steckl, an Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of electrical engineering in the University of Cincinnati's College of Engineering and Applied Science, and his research team have developed a new test that can easily and simply measure common stress hormones using sweat, blood, urine, or saliva. Their unique device measures multiple biomarkers and can be applied to different bodily fluids.

Here, the stress biomarkers primarily included cortisol, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and neuropeptide Y.

The test is not intended to replace a full-panel laboratory blood test. However, the test is simple and easy to interpret and would help indicate whether users need to consult a health professional.

The University of Cincinnati received grant funding for the project from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab. According to Steckl, the military studies acute stress in its pilots and others who are "pushing the edges of human performance."

Hopefully, this easy and effective way of detecting stress hormones in low concentrations will help research develop a simple device that patients can use at home to monitor their health.