Brief Reports| Volume 46, ISSUE 6, P856-859, September 15, 1999

Late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia: a treatable cause of anxiety

  • Alan R Jacobs
    Neuroendocrine Unit, Department of Neurology, The New York Hospital/Cornell University Medical Center, New York, NY, USA (ARJ)
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  • Phyllis B Edelheit
    Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Long Island Jewish Medical Center/Schneider Children’s Hospital/Hillside Hospital, New Hyde Park, NY, USA (PBE)
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  • Anton E Coleman
    Harvard Neuroendocrine Unit, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA, USA (AEC, AGH)
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  • Andrew G Herzog
    Address reprint requests to Andrew G. Herzog, MD, MSc, Director, Harvard Neuroendocrine Unit, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215
    Harvard Neuroendocrine Unit, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA, USA (AEC, AGH)
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      Background: Some intermediaries of cortisol synthesis, especially the sulfated ester of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS), are picrotoxin-like antagonists of the γ-aminobutyric acid A (GABA-A) receptor and exert potent anxiogenic effects. We report 5 men and 7 women with refractory anxiety disorders, who had late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and in whom interactions between neuroactive steroids and anomalous brain substrates may have participated in the pathophysiology and treatment of anxiety.
      Methods: Twelve patients with refractory anxiety disorders as defined by DSM-IV had elevated DHEAS and specific enzyme deficiencies diagnostic of CAH. All were treated with adrenal suppressive therapy using ketoconazole or low (physiologic) dose glucocorticoids. Anxiety was rated by the Tension Scale of the Profile of Mood States (POMS Tension) questionnaire before and during hormonal treatment.
      Results: Reduction of DHEAS was associated with lower anxiety scores in all twelve cases. POMS Tension scores decreased by 55%. Hormonal treatment, which failed to lower DHEAS, was ineffective.
      Conclusions: These findings suggest that late onset CAH can contribute to anxiety disorders and that adrenal suppressive therapy or inhibition of steroidogenesis with ketoconazole may be efficacious as adjuvant therapy.


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