Cortisol and PTSD Symptoms Among Male and Female High-Exposure 9/11 Survivors

Only a few studies have examined cortisol response to trauma-related stressors in relation to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We followed a sample of high-exposure survivors of the attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11, 32 men and 29 women) and examined their cortisol response after recalling the escape from the attack, 7 and 18 months post-9/11. PTSD symptoms and saliva cortisol levels were assessed before and after trauma recollection. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that PTSD symptoms and male sex predicted increased cortisol response following recollections. For men, elevated cortisol was associated with greater severity of reexperiencing symptoms (p < .001) and lower severity of avoidance symptoms (p < .001). For women, recall-induced cortisol was minimal and unrelated to PTSD symptoms (p = .164 and p = .331, respectively). These findings suggest that augmented cortisol response to trauma-related stressors may be evident in men reporting symptoms of PTSD. Thus, as cortisol abnormalities related to PTSD symptoms appear sex-specific, future research on mechanisms of sex differences in response to trauma is warranted

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