A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of hydrocortisone augmentation of Prolonged Exposure for PTSD in U.S. combat veterans

Amy Lehrner, Tom Hildebrandt, Linda M. Bierer, Janine D. Flory, Heather N. Bader, Iouri Makotkine, Rachel Yehuda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: Cognitive behavioral therapies such as Prolonged Exposure (PE) are considered first line treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nonetheless, many continue to experience significant symptoms following treatment and there is interest in enhancing treatment effectiveness. Glucocorticoid alterations in PTSD are well documented, and these steroids have been shown to enhance extinction learning. Methods: Augmentation of PE with the synthetic glucocorticoid hydrocortisone (HCORT) was tested in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 60 veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD (NCT01525680). Participants ingested 30 mg oral HCORT or placebo 30 min prior to exposure sessions. Primary outcome measure: PTSD severity assessed by the CAPS; secondary outcome measures: self reported PTSD symptoms assessed by the PDS and depression assessed by the BDI; all administered at pretreatment, posttreatment, and 3-month follow up. Results: Across conditions, there was a robust effect of PE over time. An intent-to-treat analysis showed that HCORT did not measurably improve PTSD symptoms or secondary outcomes. However, exploratory analyses indicated that veterans with mild TBI exposure and current postconcussive symptoms showed a greater reduction in hyperarousal symptoms following PE treatment with HCORT augmentation. Additionally, veterans with higher baseline glucocorticoid sensitivity showed a greater reduction in avoidance symptoms with HCORT augmentation. Conclusions: Treatment matching based on cognitive or biological vulnerabilities might lead to greater efficacy of PE with glucocorticoid augmentation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103924
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Volume144
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • mTBI

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