Cortisol and DHEA-S levels in pregnant women with severe anxiety

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Background: A complex interaction between cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S) is crucial in the stress system balance; several studies have reported increased cortisol levels during chronic stress and a weak counter-regulation by DHEA-S. During pregnancy, scarce information about this system is available, although cortisol and DHEA-S play an important role in the initiation and acceleration of labor. We conducted the present study in order to determine both cortisol and DHEA-S levels during the last trimester of pregnancy in patients exhibiting severe anxiety. Methods: Pregnant women during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy were evaluated by using the self-reported version of the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS). According to the scores obtained from the psychometric scale, participants were divided into two groups: 1) patients exhibiting a cutoff score > 15 were considered with severe anxiety (ANX) (n = 101), and control pregnant subjects (CTRL) (n = 44) with a cutoff score < 5. Morning cortisol, DHEA-S and Cortisol/DHEA-S index were measured in all participants. Comparisons between groups were performed; additionally, correlations between clinical variables, biochemical data and HARS were calculated. Results: Cortisol levels were significantly higher in the ANX group (p < 0.001), whereas those of DHEA-S were significantly lower in the same group (p < 0.01) when compared to healthy pregnant subjects. An increased cortisol/DHEA-S index was observed in the ANX group (p < 0.05). A significant association between cortisol and HARS scores (p = 0.03), was observed even after adjusting by gestational weeks (p = 0.004). Conclusions: Our data support that the cortisol/DHEA-S index is higher in pregnant women with high anxiety levels as compared with healthy pregnant women.




Leff-Gelman, P., Flores-Ramos, M., Carrasco, A. E. Á., Martínez, M. L., Takashima, M. F. S., Coronel, F. M. C., … Camacho-Arroyo, I. (2020). Cortisol and DHEA-S levels in pregnant women with severe anxiety. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1).

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