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Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity in panic disorder: prediction of long-term outcome by pretreatment cortisol levels
Am J Psychiatry 1996;153:69-73.
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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The authors sought to determine whether hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity in patients before their treatment for panic disorder can predict follow-up functional status. Although baseline HPA axis disturbances in patients with panic disorder appear to attenuate with treatment, there is evidence that they may be linked to poorer long-term outcomes. METHOD: Follow-up clinical data were obtained for 18 of 20 patients with panic disorder who participated in a detailed study of HPA axis activity in panic, both before and during their treatment with alprazolam. HPA axis assessment included monitoring of adrenocorticotropin and cortisol over a full circadian cycle. The relationships between disability and clinical status at 2-year follow-up and HPA axis overactivity at entry were examined. RESULTS: Mean 24-hour cortisol levels before treatment provided a strong, positive predictor of disability scores at follow- up. Those patients who achieved the treatment goal of medication-free remissions had less evidence of HPA axis overactivity at entry than those who were not in remission. CONCLUSIONS: HPA axis activity before treatment did predict outcome 2 years later. This relationship appears robust and reproducible. Further work is needed to define the neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the HPA axis markers that are linked to long-term functioning and to determine the biological, psychological, and social processes that link HPA axis disturbance to poorer outcomes.

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