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Biol Psychiatry. 1997 Oct 15;42(8):680-6.

Enhanced dexamethasone suppression of plasma cortisol in adult women traumatized by childhood sexual abuse.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, USA.


A study was undertaken to determine if female survivors of childhood and/or adolescent sexual abuse (CSA) would exhibit hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis abnormalities characteristic of patients with combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)--i.e., enhanced cortisol suppression to low-dose dexamethasone and increased density of lymphocyte glucocorticoid receptors. Nineteen women who reported experiencing severe CSA and 21 nonvictimized women participated in a low-dose (0.5 mg) dexamethasone suppression test and donated blood for measurement of lymphocyte glucocorticoid receptor binding. Women with CSA had significantly enhanced suppression of plasma cortisol in response to 0.5 mg dexamethasone compared to the nonvictimized women. These observations are consistent with findings in male veterans with combat-related PTSD. They suggest that this pattern of HPA axis dysfunction may be a characteristic sequel of psychiatric disorders that occur following a range of traumatic experiences. This HPA axis profile is different than that associated with acute stress or with major depressive disorder.

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