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Elevated cortisol in older adults with generalized anxiety disorder is reduced by treatment: a placebo-controlled evaluation of escitalopram.

Author(s): Lenze EJ, Mantella RC, Shi P, Goate AM, Nowotny P, Butters MA, Andreescu C, Thompson PA, Rollman BL

Affiliation(s): Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA. lenzee@wustl.edu

Publication date & source: 2011-05, Am J Geriatr Psychiatry., 19(5):482-90.

Publication type: Randomized Controlled Trial; Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

BACKGROUND: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common disorder in older adults, which has been linked to hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in this age group. The authors examined whether treatment of GAD in older adults with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) corrects this HPA axis hyperactivity. METHODS: The authors examined adults aged 60 years and older with GAD in a 12-week randomized controlled trial comparing the SSRI escitalopram with placebo. The authors collected salivary cortisol at six daily time points for 2 consecutive days to assess peak and total (area under the curve) cortisol, both at baseline and posttreatment. RESULTS: Compared with placebo-treated patients, SSRI-treated patients had a significantly greater reduction in both peak and total cortisol. This reduction in cortisol was limited to patients with elevated (above the median) baseline cortisol, in whom SSRI-treated patients showed substantially greater reduction in cortisol than did placebo-treated patients. Reductions in cortisol were associated with improvements in anxiety. Additionally, genetic variability at the serotonin transporter promoter predicted cortisol changes. CONCLUSIONS: SSRI treatment of GAD in older adults reduces HPA axis hyperactivity. Further research should determine whether these treatment-attributable changes are sustained and beneficial.

Page last updated: 2011-12-09

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