Seasonal affective disorder
Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are now the first-line treatment of major depression. They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). There are no significant differences among SSRI brands in effectiveness for treating major depressive disorder, although individual drugs may have different side effects or benefits for specific patients. At this time, fluoxetine is the only one of these drugs to be approved for children over age 7 and adolescents.
Because they act specifically on serotonin, SSRIs have fewer side effects than older antidepressants, which have more widespread effects in the body.
Candidates for SSRIs. SSRIs appear to help people with the following conditions:
Duration of Effectiveness and Use. SSRIs take, on average, 2 - 4 weeks to be effective in most adults. They may take even longer, up to 12 weeks, in the elderly and in those with dysthymia. By 14 weeks, depression should be in remission in everyone who responds to the drugs. Unfortunately, recurrence is common once the drugs are stopped. Studies indicate that the standard SSRIs are generally safe, although it is still unclear which patients would most benefit from on-going medication. Some doctors recommend withdrawing from medication after a year. If depression recurs, then the patient should go back on the antidepressant.
Side Effects of SSRIs. Side effects may include:
Drug Interactions. SSRIs can interact with other antidepressants such as tricyclics and, in particular, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). SSRIs should never be taken in combination with an MAOI or within 2 weeks after discontinuing MAOI treatment. Other serious interactions have occurred with meperidine (Demerol) and illegal substances (such as LSD, cocaine, or ecstasy). SSRIs also interact with the antibiotic linezolid (Zyvox). People who take SSRIs may drink alcohol in moderation, although the combination may compound any drowsiness experienced with SSRIs, and some SSRIs increase the effects of alcohol.
Withdrawal Symptoms. Cognitive problems, sleep disturbances, increase in depressive symptoms, and electric shock-like symptoms have been known to occur with sudden discontinuation of SSRIs. The symptoms are more likely to occur with antidepressants with shorter half-lives as compared with fluoxetine, which has a long half-life. The dose of the antidepressant should be slowly reduced before stopping.
These newer antidepressants target other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine or dopamine, alone or in addition to serotonin. In general, the advantages of the new designer antidepressants are:
They do share some side effects with other antidepressants, including dizziness and dry mouth.
Dual Inhibitors. Dual inhibitors act directly on two neurotransmitters -- norepinephrine and serotonin. These drugs are also known as serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). The following SNRIs are approved for treatment of major depression in adults:
Other Antidepressants with Effects on Multiple Neurotransmitters. Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban) affects the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine -- a third important neurotransmitter. In addition to depression, bupropion is also approved for smoking cessation and for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Bupropion causes less sexual dysfunction than SSRIs. About 25% of patients experience initial weight loss. Side effects include restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, headache, and stomach problems. Bupropion has a risk for seizures, which increases with higher doses. High doses may also cause dangerous heart arrhythmias.
Before the introduction of SSRIs, tricyclics were the standard treatment for depression.
Tricyclics are sometimes grouped into two categories:
Less commonly used tricyclics include doxepin (Sinequan), amoxapine (Asendin), maprotiline (Ludiomill), protriptyline (Vivactil), trimipramine (Surmontil), mianserin (Bolvidon), and dothiepin (Prothiaden).
Tricyclics are as effective for treating depression but they have many side effects. They may offer benefits for many people with dysthymia, who generally do not respond to SSRIs. They may also be prescribed in lower dosages to be taken at night to help with insomnia.
Side Effects of Tricyclics. Side effects are common with these medications. In fact, in an analysis of studies, more tricyclic users discontinued their drugs due to side effects than did SSRI or MAOI users. Those most often reported include:
Tricyclics can have serious, although rare, side effects:
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) block monoamine oxidase, an enzyme which has negative effects on many of the neurotransmitters that are important for well-being. MAOIs include phenelzine (Nardil), isocarboxazid (Marplan), and tranylcypromine (Parnate). Because these drugs can have very severe side effects, they are usually prescribed only when other types of antidepressants do not help. Research indicates that MAOIs are an effective option for atypical and treatment-resistant depression.
Newer MAOIs, such as selegiline (Eldepryl, Movergan), target only one form of the MAOI enzyme. They may cause fewer side effects than older MAOIs. A skin patch form of selegiline (Emsam) is also available for treatment of major depressive disorder in adults.
Candidates for MAOIs. MAOIs may also be effective for the following conditions:
Side Effects. MAOIs commonly cause the following side effects:
Very dangerous side effects, such as serotonin syndrome, can occur from interactions with other antidepressants, including SSRIs. Serotonin syndrome is a potentially fatal condition that is caused by the interaction of serotonergic drugs. Symptoms include confusion, agitation, sweating and shivering, and muscle spasms. There should be at least a 2-week break between taking MAOIs and other antidepressants. MAOIs can have serious interactions with other drugs as well, including some common over-the-counter cough medications. In such cases, severe high blood pressure or dangerous reactions can occur. It is important that patients discuss with their doctors any other medications they are taking.
If patients fail to respond to antidepressants, doctors may try adding on a different type of drug. (This combination strategy is called â€śaugmentationâ€ť or â€śadjunctive treatmentâ€ť.) Atypical antipsychotics are drugs that are usually prescribed for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but they can also play a role in the treatment of severe depression. In 2007, aripiprazole (Abilify) was approved in combination with antidepressant therapy for treatment of adults with major depressive disorder. Investigators are also studying whether combination treatment with the atypical antipsychotic risperidone (Risperdal) can help patients with major depression achieve remission.
Ketamine. Ketamine, an anesthetic drug, may be helpful for patients with severe treatment-resistant depression. In a small preliminary study, a single intravenous dose of ketamine helped patients quickly recover from depression within 2 hours, and some patients sustained benefits for up to a week. (Standard antidepressant drugs usually take about 8 weeks to have an effect.) Ketamine blocks the NMDA brain protein receptor, which is involved in glutamate regulation. Glutamate is a brain chemical that is thought to be involved in depression.
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