Increased 24-hour urinary cortisol excretion in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and patients with major depression, but not in patients with fibromyalgia

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There is now firm evidence that major depression is accompanied by increased baseline activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, as assessed by means of 24-h urinary cortisol (UC) excretion. Recently, there were some reports that fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), two disorders which show a significant amplitude of depressive symptoms, are associated with changes in the baseline activity of the HPA axis, such as low 24-h UC excretion. The aim of the present study was to examine 24-h UC excretion in fibromyalgia and PTSD patients compared to normal controls and patients with major depression. In the three patient groups, severity of depressive symptoms was measured by means of the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) score. Severity of fibromyalgia was measured using a dolorimetrically obtained myalgic score, and severity of PTSD was assessed by means of factor analytical scores computed on the items of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), PTSD Module. Patients with PTSD and major depression had significantly higher 24-h UC excretion than normal controls and fibromyalgia patients. At a threshold value of ≥240 μg/24 h, 80% of PTSD patients and 80% of depressed patients had increased 24 h UC excretion with a specificity of 100%. There were no significant differences in 24-h UC excretion either between fibromyalgia patients and normal controls, or between patients with major depression and PTSD patients. In the three patient groups, no significant correlations were found between 24-h UC excretion and the HDRS score. In fibromyalgia, no significant correlations were found between 24-h UC excretion and the myalgic score. In PTSD, no significant correlations were found between 24-h UC excretion and severity of either depression-avoidance or anxiety-arousal symptoms. In conclusion, this study found increased 24-h UC excretion in patients with PTSD comparable to that in patients with major depression, whereas in fibromyalgia no significant changes in 24-h UC were found.

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