We review studies of whether cortisol levels following psychosocial stress exposure differ between patients with psychosis and healthy control subjects.
Original research published between 1993 and February 2019 was included in the literature search. Studies that used experimentally induced psychosocial stress and reported stress response measures of plasma or saliva cortisol levels in patients at any stage of illness (i.e. high risk, first episode and chronic phase) were included.
A total of 17 studies were included. Although there was evidence of inconsistencies in measures, we observed moderate evidence of an association with stress-induced cortisol blunting response across studies.
This review highlights recent evidence of blunting of cortisol response following experimentally induced psychosocial stress. While there was some evidence of this blunted response across illness types and stages, the strongest evidence was observed for those with chronic schizophrenia. Due to the low number of studies, in particular in bipolar disorder, much work is still needed to accurately characterise the biological effects of stress in psychosis.