Intimate partner violence is associated with increased maternal hair cortisol in mother-child dyads.Compr Psychiatry. 2017 01; 72:18-24.CP
The chronic consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV) on HPA activation are a topic of debate. The current study investigated hair cortisol concentrations in female victims of IPV and their children.
A total of 52 mother-child dyads were divided into two groups depending on exposure to IPV: IPV group (n=27 dyads) and control group (n=25 dyads). Hair cortisol concentration was measured in 1-cm-long hair strands, representing 30days of exposure before assessment. PTSD and depression symptoms were assessed in the mother and child.
Women reporting IPV presented with higher hair cortisol levels, depression and PTSD symptoms severity in comparison to control women. Children who witnessed IPV reported more severe PTSD symptoms, but depressive symptoms and hair cortisol were not statistically different than those in control children. Correlation analyses revealed a positive association between the number of injury events and the level of hair cortisol in children. No associations between the hair cortisol levels in mothers and those in their children were found.
Higher hair cortisol levels detected in women exposed to IPV reflected long-lasting changes in HPA axis functioning associated with chronic stress exposure. Children whose parents recurrently engage in violent conflicts with intimate partners may often feel threatened and consequently reporting more PTSD-related symptoms. Given that experiencing and witnessing violence during childhood and adolescence are predictive of intimate partner violence in adulthood, the need of early interventions is crucial.