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Biol Psychiatry. 2002 Apr 1;51(7):575-82.

Diurnal salivary cortisol in pediatric posttraumatic stress disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Child Development, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305-5719, USA.



The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been implicated in the pathophysiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additional information on basal cortisol levels in children exposed to trauma and experiencing PTSD symptoms may contribute to the understanding of the role of this axis in PTSD.


Fifty-one children (30 boys and 21 girls, mean age 10.7 years) with a history of exposure to trauma and PTSD symptoms were compared with 31 age- and gender-matched healthy control subjects. Salivary cortisol was obtained from participants during home measurements and was collected four times a day (prebreakfast, prelunch, predinner, and prebed) for up to 3 consecutive days.


The clinical group demonstrated significantly elevated cortisol levels when compared with the control group. In addition, exploratory analyses revealed that girls with PTSD symptoms had significantly elevated cortisol levels when compared with boys with PTSD symptoms.


The physiologic response of children with history of trauma and with PTSD symptoms may be characterized by heightened adrenal activity.

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