Life after trauma
The present study compared cortisol levels at baseline and following exposure to stressors in female and male children 3 to 6 years of age diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Data were collected from 97 subjects diagnosed with PTSD who had experienced a single traumatic event, repeated traumatic events, or Hurricane Katrina. Subjects provided an initial salivary sample, completed a series of stressful laboratory tasks shortly thereafter, and subsequently provided a second salivary sample to measure the cortisol stress response. Data were analyzed via independent samples t-test and multi-factor analysis of variance. Males displayed a slightly higher, but non- significant, baseline cortisol level than females. While this difference was small and non- significant for the single trauma and Hurricane Katrina groups, males in the repeated trauma group exhibited a noticeably higher—yet still non-significant—baseline than females. Analysis of cortisol stress response showed that cortisol levels decreased significantly following exposure to a laboratory-induced stressor. A three-way interaction revealed a significant decrease in cortisol response only in males who had a history of repeated trauma. This decrease was associated with an unusually high baseline cortisol level in these males. These results suggest that, while male and female children with PTSD may not display significant differences in HPA axis activity overall, the type and amount of traumatic events experienced are associated with different cortisol reactivity between the sexes. Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between type and amount of trauma, sex, and HPA axis activity in children with PTSD.