MONDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in abused children appear to be linked to reduced hippocampal size, suggesting that stress in youth may damage that region of children's brains, researchers report in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Victor G. Carrion, M.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., and colleagues analyzed data from a study of 15 abused children treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. The children underwent neuroimaging and their cortisol levels were analyzed.

The study of six boys and nine girls (mean age 10.4 years) included seven whites, six blacks, one Hispanic and one Asian. Some 13 percent came from families earning more than $41,000, 27 percent from families earning $21,000 to $41,000, and 47 percent earning up to $21,000 annually.

The researchers found a connection between cortisol levels and post-traumatic stress disorder in the children at the study's outset and hippocampal reduction after 12 to 18 months.

"Results from this pilot study suggest that stress is associated with hippocampal reduction in children with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and provide preliminary human evidence that stress may indeed damage the hippocampus," the authors write. "Additional studies seem to be warranted."

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