Risks and benefits of selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors in the treatment of depression

Mourilhe P; Stokes PE
New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center,
White Plains, USA.
Drug Saf, 1998 Jan, 18:1, 57-82


Depression is a common, life-disrupting, potentially lethal illness that can affect both sexes and all ages. Its peak onset is in the early adult years. It is more common than hypertension in primary care practice. Recent studies show that fewer than 1 in 20 depressed patients are correctly diagnosed and adequately treated. Depression periodically destroys the productivity of those with the condition, and depressed patients have a worse quality of life than patients with debilitating, chronic conditions such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and back pain. Suicide occurs in as many as 15% of patients with depression, especially those with recurrent episodes and hospitalisations, and may even occur in those with in subsyndromal depression. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death, and individuals who complete suicide have usually experienced mood disorders, mainly depression. Current data support a decreased frequency of suicidal ideation with all antidepressants, including selective serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Modern pharmacotherapy is the cornerstone for effective treatment of depression. As they are well tolerated, even in the presence of comorbid medical illness, and easier to manage, SSRIs enhance compliance. A fully adequate antidepressant dosage is suitable for patients of all ages and can be used by non-psychiatrist physicians for the treatment of the acute episode, as well as the frequent recurrences that often require long term maintenance antidepressant medication. SSRIs have fewer drug interactions than older antidepressants, and even the SSRI inhibition of hepatic cytochrome P450 enzymes has proven only very infrequently to be of clinical importance. SSRIs also effectively treat anxious depression, dysthymia and atypical depression. Fluoxetine may provide more rapid onset of therapeutic effect because it can be started at closer to its usual full therapeutic dosage than other SSRIs or older antidepressants. SSRIs, in particular fluoxetine, are more suitable for use as long-term maintenance therapy in these chronic relapsing diseases. These factors and the high efficacy rate, increased safety in overdose, reduced incidence of adverse effects (mostly decreasing with time) and superiority in ease of maintaining patients in adequate treatment plans provides fluoxetine with an overall superior therapeutic profile.
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