Cortisol Levels Effect Those With Anxiety Disorders

Cortisol is often referred to as the "stress hormone", because of your body's levels of cortisol increase in response to stressors. Since cortisol is so closely linked to stress, levels of the hormone are often of concern to those with anxiety disorders. High levels of the hormone affect the body by increasing blood sugar, suppressing the immune system, and affecting other hormones such as thyroid, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.

Cortisol levels can be elevated due to stress and other lifestyle factors, and they can also be elevated as a response to a medical problem or hormone imbalance. People with high cortisol levels include women in their last trimester of pregnancy, highly trained athletes, and people suffering from depression, alcoholism, malnutrition and panic disorders. People with extremely high cortisol levels may develop Cushing's syndrome, a medical condition that is generally caused by either treatment with glucocorticoid hormones (such as prednisone) or benign tumors on the pituitary gland.

Testing for elevated cortisol levels is a pretty simple procedure. Usually, your doctor will order a blood sample is taken, which will be checked in a lab to see how much cortisol is in your bloodstream. A saliva sample can also be used as an indicator of blood cortisol levels, although this method is less common.

Bloodstream cortisol levels vary depending on the time of day (diurnal variation), so they will be more elevated as certain times. Lowest cortisol levels occur between midnight and 4 am, and levels peak around 6 to 8 am.

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