Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

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Today's lesson: Paxil and Lexapro are not great antidepressants

Dawdy at Furious Seasons wrote a post on an editorial in the LA Times by Summer Beretsky’s experience with Paxil. After reading her editorial, I’m reminded that my own experience with one antidepressant wasn’t all that unique. Her drug was Paxil for panic attacks; mine was Lexapro for depression following a 3-month (on-and-off) stint with Paxil. I’m struck by the similarity of our experiences; not only did the same thing happened to me but I was also a communications major in college as well.

Paxil had one pretty undesirable effect on me: I started to lose interest in just about everything. I stopped initiating social activities (who needs that sort of thing?) and was no longer motivated to perform well academically.

My emotions had flat-lined: I hadn’t cried in months, nor had I proverbially jumped for joy. I felt — nothing.

I can still remember sleeping in bed at home on a weekday when I should have been at class. It was 2 in the afternoon, around the time my copy editing class was to begin. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) lived in Kentucky while I attended college in New York. He planned to visit me that weekend but was getting fed up with my depression and listlessness. He called from work to tell me to get up and go to class. I mumbled on the phone, half-confused, and said no. He demanded, “Why not?” I said quite plainly, “Because I don’t care.” He said, “If you don’t get up and go to class, I won’t visit you this weekend.”

I replied, “I don’t care.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Women & Antidepressants

Pink, a magazine for business women, has an article in its April/May 2007 issue titled, “The Magic Pill.” (The only way to read this article is to get a hard-copy of the mag.) No, this isn’t about birth control. The subhead: “Antidepressants are now used for everything from migraines to menopause. But are women getting an overdose?”

Good question. The article, well-written by Mary Anne Dunkin, does a nice job of trying to present both sides of the coin. One subject, Pam Gilchrist, takes tricyclic antidepressants to relieve her fibromyalgia symptoms. “One of the [antidepressants] that allows her to keep going” is Effexor (venlafaxine). God forbid the woman should ever have to come off of that one. (It works well when you’re on it, but withdrawal is sheer hell.)

The other subject mentioned in the article, Billie Wickstrom, suffers from bipolar disorder, but had a therapist who diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The psychiatrist she was referred to promptly put her on Anafranil (clomipramine). We all know what antidepressants tend to do for those with bipolar disorder. Wickstrom blanked out at an interview that she says she normally would have aced. In another incident, she veered off-course after leaving town and spent the night on the side of the road with her daughter. “Search parties in three states” were out looking for them.

“Three years and three hospitalizations later, Wickstrom is finally free of clomipramine and has a job she loves as PR director for a $300 million family of companies. She says she’s happy, she’s focused and she feels great – consistently.”

Dunkin’s article uncovers a large, problematic use – by my standards, anyway – of off-label usage by doctors.

“Gilchrist… is one of the estimated one in 10 American women taking some type of antidepressant medication. And a considerable percentage of these prescriptions, particularly those for tricyclic antidepressants, are not used to treat depression at all.

A growing number of doctors today prescribe antidepressants for a wide range of problems, including anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes and smoking cessation.”

I’m sure the list goes on, but magazines have but oh so much space.

Melissa McNeilDr. Melissa McNeil at the University of Pittsburgh points out three things:

  1. Since depression is a prevalent (see common) condition, doctors are better detecting it.
  2. Since antidepressants have proven their safety and efficacy, primary care physicians have no reservations prescribing them.
  3. Clinical studies are finding that antidepressants can aid a number of medical issues apart from depression.

My take on McNeil’s points (I’ll try to keep them brief):

  • Depression is way too common to be abnormal. If a woman has a rough patch in life for 2 weeks or more, she’s got depression. As for doctors being better at detecting depression? Studies consistently show that doctors are great at overlooking depression in men.
  • Antidepressants haven’t proven jack squat. Placebos have proven more safety and efficacy than antidepressants. PCPs have no reservations prescribing them because they only know about the positive facts that pharma reps tell them instead of researching the potential side effects.
  • Clinical studies aren’t finding all those things out. Seroquel has FDA-approval to treat psychiatric symptoms (psychosis, for one). As far as I know, Seroquel is not FDA-approved to treat insomnia or crappy sleeping patterns. There are no specific clinical studies to see if Seroquel can treat insomnia. Seroquel is prescribed to treat insomnia/restless sleep because doctors have found that a major side effect of the drug is somnolence. If this is the case, Effexor should be prescribed for weight loss. It’d be the new Fen-Phen.

Dunkin cites two widely used antidepressants for nonpsychiatric uses: Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Prozac (fluoxetine). Zyban, used for smoking cessation is, well, bupropion. Sarafem, used to treat PMS symptoms is – you guessed it – fluoxetine.

Viktor BouquetteDr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Group thankfully takes a more cautious approach:

“The widespread use – mostly misuse – by physicians of antidepressants to treat women for far-ranging symptoms from insomnia, chronic fatigue and irritability to PMS and menopause is merely another unfortunate example of the pharmaceutical industry’s tremendous influence on the practice of modern medicine. Take enough antidepressants and you may likely still have the symptoms, but you won’t care.”

Kudos to Dunkin for landing that quote. Since Bouquette is part of an alternative medicine group, he’s got a good motive for slamming pharma companies.

McNeil goes on to sound anti-d happy in the article. Not that it matters, but she is also a section editor for the Journal of Women’s Health, which has several corporate associates representing pharmaceutical companies. (She is also the only source in the article who sings anti-d’s praises.) Dunkin tracked down Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical professor at the Brown University Department of Psychiatry, who advocated patient responsibility.

“Just because antidepressants work for depression does not mean they should always be used. People need to learn skills to manage their depressive symptoms instead of depending on medication. When you take medicine for every complaint, you lose the opportunity to learn how to regulate your mood on your own.”

Oh, for more doctors like Haltzman and Bouquette.

UPDATE: Uh, alleged fraud suit pending against Progressive Medical Group. Bouquette is now part of Progressive Medical Centers of America.

UPDATE: Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

I previously wrote about how fluoxetine helped smooth out my withdrawal from venlafaxine. I’m doing much better and am able to function.

What’s the update then?

I’ve got lingering side effects from either the fluoxetine or the venlafaxine – I’m not sure which.

somnolenceThe lingering somnolence/grogginess for about a week or so can definitely be attributed to fluoxetine. I’d never struggled with somnolence on any med except when I first started Effexor in the hospital. Grogginess has never been a problem except for my antihistamine medication hydroxyzine.

The brain shocks still linger. They’re not as bad nor are they frequent. I can walk around, turn, spin – no problem. But if I’m in the middle of walking  down the street and turn my neck slightly to see if a car is coming before I cross – *zap!* – brain shock. That’s all I get for the rest of my 15-minute walk. I’d say that’s pretty good (considering what I’d previously endured).

Dizziness, vertigo, and light-headedness: those are much more frequent. As I sit here and type, my entire field of vision can swirl clockwise and return to normal via counter-clockwise. It happens for about 3 seconds or less, but it’s long enough for me to notice and go, “Whoa.” (Who needs recreational drugs when you’ve got withdrawals from psych meds?) These side effects are not as frequent as they used to be with the direct venlafaxine withdrawal, but they can occur about 30 times or less throughout a 17-hour day (7 a.m.-12 a.m.) for me.

I’ve read that people can use fluoxetine to offset venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms with relatively uneventful side effects. Somnolence was not a fun side effect. Just a warning.

My semi-daily fluoxetine update

Okay, the brain shivers are gone. Completely. I still get some vertigo and light-headedness but it happens maybe three times a day max. So fluoxetine has eliminated some of the effects.

I wasn’t prepared for fluoxetine’s side effects, however. And boy, it’s got some kickers.

Since I was on an incredibly low dosage (10-20 mg), there weren’t many side effects.
But boy, is somnolence kicking my butt.

After becoming used to waking up before I’m supposed to, now I’m having the opposite problem: I can’t get up at all. I need my husband to drag me out of bed. And since he’s so nice, he doesn’t do that either.

Argh. As of Friday night, I’ve stopped taking fluoxetine so I’m praying to God that these side effects will go away. I hate somnolence. I’ve had that issue with hydroxyzine (Atarax) and it’s the same reason that I refuse to take quetiapine (Seroquel). I’m getting sleepy right now. If I can get up before noon, I’ll be so freakin’ lucky.

The metabolism aspect of fluoxetine doesn’t make me jump for joy.  According to my favorite “reputable” site, wikipedia:

“Fluoxetine is metabolised to norfluoxetine, and it may take up to 1 to 2 months for the active drug substance to disappear from the body.”

I don’t know if I can tolerate somnolence for 1-2 months. I hope the side effects from this is out of my system by the end of the week.

Come to think of it: somnolence vs. brain shivers?

I’ll take somnolence ANY DAY.