Background: Because traumatic events are unpredictable, there are few studies of psychobiological states immediately following such events. Our study aimed to determine the relation of salivary cortisol to psychologic distress immediately after a traumatic event and then during follow-up.
Methods: Measurement of morning and evening salivary cortisol and ratings of psychologic distress (using the Impact of Events Scale [IES], the Post Traumatic Symptom Scale, and the General Health Questionnaire) were performed with 31 United Nations soldiers at three time points—5 days and 2 and 9 months—following a mine accident in Lebanon.
Results: Five days after the accident, 15 subjects reported substantial posttraumatic distress according to the IES, as well as significantly lower morning and higher evening cortisol levels compared with the low-impact group. Within 9 months, the posttraumatic distress of the high-impact group was reduced, accompanied by an increase in morning and a decrease in evening cortisol levels. There were significant relationships between evening cortisol and all rating scales at the first and third time points.
Conclusions: Subclinical posttraumatic stress following an adverse event can be measured biologically via salivary cortisol levels soon after the event.
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Accepted: July 16, 2001
Received in revised form: May 29, 2001
Received: January 24, 2001
© 2001 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.