Previous research suggests that in borderline personality disorder (BPD) normal stress regulation, with a main role for cortisol, is disturbed. However, most studies were confounded by their lack of attention to co-morbidity. Relevant patient characteristics such as depression, childhood abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and copying styles were not systematically examined. Moreover, none of the studies incorporated dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone that can antagonize the effects of cortisol. Hence, the present pilot study investigates the basic levels of cortisol and DHEA and the ratio (CDR) between the two hormones in BPD patients. Twenty-two women with BPD and 22 healthy female controls provided two diurnal (8 a.m./8 p.m.) salivary samples. Overall cortisol levels were not significantly increased in the patient group as a whole but only in those patients diagnosed with co-morbid PTSD and a history of childhood abuse. The patients’ cortisol secretions decreased relatively less steep during the day than it did in the controls. Surprisingly, morning DHEA levels were significantly higher in the patients than in the controls. Moreover, the CDR showed a significantly larger and less favourable increase in the BPD group during the day. In the patients lower levels of DHEA in the evening proved significantly related to a stronger tendency to avoid active problem solving and a lowered inclination to seek social support. The current findings underline the relevance of cortisol and DHEA assessments and the need for further scrutiny of their interplay to foster our understanding of the biological basis of stress regulation in BPD.
- Borderline personality disorder
- Cortisol-DHEA ratio
- Childhood abuse
- Copying styles