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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1987;12(2):117-29.

Role of stress in the exacerbation of chronic illness: effects of clonidine administration on blood pressure and plasma norepinephrine, cortisol, growth hormone and prolactin concentrations.


Systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), and plasma norepinephrine (NE), cortisol (CRT), growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (PRL) were studied before and after clonidine (2.5 micrograms/kg i.m.) administration in 193 chronic severely ill patients and 193 normal subjects matched by age and sex. During exacerbation periods (positive manifestations of impairment and progressive disease), the patients showed higher NE, CRT and DBP than the normals or when they were investigated during non-exacerbation periods (92 of the 193). Clonidine induced sharp, marked reductions of NE, CRT and DBP, plus a sudden increase of GH, in all the patients during exacerbation periods. Non-significant reductions of NE, CRT and DBP were observed in normals and in patients during non-exacerbation periods. On the other hand, the GH increase registered during exacerbation periods was of an order of magnitude higher than that registered in normals and in patients during non-exacerbation periods. Significant reduction of SBP was registered both in normals and patients (exacerbation and non-exacerbation periods). Some tendency to PRL lowering was observed during exacerbation periods only. A high positive correlation between NE and DBP (pre- and post-clonidine values) was obtained during exacerbation periods in patients, but not in normals or during non-exacerbation periods in the patients. Similarly, a close negative correlation was obtained between CRT and GH (postclonidine values) during exacerbation periods, but not in normals or during non-exacerbation periods. No significant correlation was found between NE and SBP in any group of subjects. The clonidine-induced changes in GH and CRT observed in the patients during exacerbation periods were in striking contrast to the absence of these changes in depressed patients. This finding is consistent with the low rate of depression (6.7%) registered among our patients during exacerbation periods. The high plasma NE and CRT levels registered in chronic severely ill patients during exacerbation periods reflect a central and peripheral sympathetic hyperactivity, accompanied by an overactivity of the pituitary--adrenocortical axis. The strong reduction of DBP, NE and CRT, along with the sharp and great increase of GH, might be useful as indicators in assessing the exacerbation and progression of severe chronic illnesses.

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