Hair Cortisol and Perceived Stress—Predictors for the Onset of Tics? A European Longitudinal Study on High-Risk Children
Some retrospective studies suggest that psychosocial stressors trigger the onset of tics. This study examined prospective hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity and perceived stress prior to tic onset. In the present study, 259 children at high risk for developing tics were assessed for hair cortisol concentration (HCC) and parent-on-child-reported perceived stress four-monthly over a three-year period. We used (i) generalised additive modelling (GAM) to investigate the time effects on HCC (hair samples n = 765) and perceived stress (questionnaires n = 1019) prior to tic onset and (ii) binary logistic regression to predict tic onset in a smaller subsample with at least three consecutive assessments (six to nine months before, two to five months before, and at tic onset). GAM results indicated a non-linear increasing course of HCC in children who developed tics, and a steady HCC course in those without tics, as well as a linear-increasing course of perceived stress in both groups. Logistic regression showed that with a higher HCC in hair samples collected in a range of two to five months before tic onset (which refers to cortisol exposure in a range of four to eight months), the relative likelihood of tic onset rose. Our study suggests increased stress prior to tic onset, as evidenced by higher HCC several months before tic onset.