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How stress gets under the skin: cortisol and stress reactivity in psoriasis


  • Conflicts of interest
    None declared.

Andrea Evers.


Background  Psychological stressors might contribute to the severity of chronic inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis by dysregulating hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity.

Objectives  To evaluate the role of cortisol, a key component of the HPA axis, in reaction to psychological stress in patients with psoriasis.

Methods  Serum cortisol, clinical indicators of disease severity (Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) and self-report measures of daily stressors were measured monthly for 6 months in 62 patients with psoriasis.

Results  In addition to the previous findings in this sample showing that peak levels of daily stressors predicted an increase in disease severity a month later, the peak levels of daily stressors were also significantly associated with a lower cortisol level. Moreover, patients who persistently experienced higher levels of daily stressors had lower mean cortisol levels than patients who experienced lower levels of daily stressors.

Conclusions  Results suggest that daily stressors influence disease outcome in patients with psoriasis by affecting cortisol levels at moments of high stress. Furthermore, patients with persistently high levels of stressors seem to have a specific psychophysiological profile of lowered cortisol levels and may be particularly vulnerable to the influence of stressors on their psoriasis.