Systemic hormonal and physiological abnormalities in anxiety disorders

Oliver G. Cameron, Randolph M. Nesse

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Among the studies of systemic hormonal and physiological abnormalities associated with anxiety disorders, the most consistent and extensive findings suggest (a) peripheral adrenergic hyperactivity (including increases in norepinephrine but not epinephrine) and functional dysregulation, (b) increased incidence of mitral valve prolapse in panic patients, and (c) normal suppressibility of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical endocrine system with dexamethasone in panic patients. Other less-certain findings include (a) increased circulating concentrations of plasma ACTH and/or cortisol, and prolactin, in panic patients, (b) increased platelet monoamine oxidase activity in generalized anxiety and/or panic patients, (c) decreased gonadal axis activity in some anxious individuals, (d) decreased nighttime melatonin plasma concentrations in panic patients, and (e) peripheral α2 and β-adrenoreceptor down-regulation, with normal serotonin binding parameters. These findings, taken together, provide tentative support for dysfunction in adrenergic and GABAergic central nervous system mechanisms in people with anxiety disorders. Abnormal anxiety and normal stress both show evidence of adrenergic hyperactivity; however, there appear to be differences in hormonal profiles, especially the apparent lack of increase of epinephrine during panic attacks, as well as differences in the reactivity of the system, and in the "trigger" mechanisms which determine when the response occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-307
Number of pages21
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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