Response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to psychological stress in patients with psoriasis.
Richards HL., Ray DW., Kirby B., Mason D., Plant D., Main CJ., Fortune DG., Griffiths CEM.
BACKGROUND: Psoriasis may, in some patients, be triggered and/or exacerbated by stress. OBJECTIVES: As activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is critical to a successful stress response we investigated this in patients with psoriasis. METHODS: Forty patients with chronic plaque psoriasis and 40 age-matched normal controls experienced three randomly presented acute psychological stressors (cognitive, emotional and social). Serial serum cortisol, pulse rate and blood pressure assessments were undertaken at baseline and following each of the stressors. Salivary cortisol samples were collected at 09.00 h on the day of testing. RESULTS: In control subjects there was a significant (r = 0.38; P < 0.05) correlation between pulse rate and serum cortisol level following the social performance stressor; this was not evident in the psoriasis group (r = 0.07; not significant). Patients who believed that their psoriasis was highly stress responsive had significantly lower salivary cortisol levels at baseline (P < 0.01) and lower serum cortisol levels following the social performance stressor (P = 0.016) than patients with nonstress-responsive disease who believed that stress had no impact. In contrast, there was no difference between the groups for change in pulse rate poststressor. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows that patients with psoriasis, and in particular those whose disease appears to be stress responsive, exhibit an altered HPA response to acute social stress. The implication is that such patients may perhaps be primed to flares of their psoriasis. Whether this is genetically predetermined and/or a consequence of the distress of living with psoriasis remains to be determined.