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A Post Hoc Comparison of Paroxetine and Nortriptyline for Symptoms of Traumatic Grief

J Clin Psychiatry 1998;59:241-245

Background: This report presents the results of an open-trial pilot study of paroxetine for symptoms of traumatic grief, compared with the effects of nortriptyline in an archival contrast group.

Method: Data are presented on 15 subjects (4 men, 11 women), ranging in age from 40 to 79 years (mean age=57 years), who experienced the loss of a spouse (N=8), child (N=5), grandchild (N=1), or parent (N=1). Subjects were required to have a baseline score on the Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG) of ž20. Treatment with paroxetine began at a median of 17 months (range, 6_139 months) after the loss. Paroxetine-treated subjects received a psychotherapy tailored for traumatic grief. Depressive symptoms were assessed by using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D). The ICG and the HAM-D were administered weekly over 4 months of paroxetine treatment (median dose=30 mg/day). The group receiving paroxetine were then compared with a group (N=22) participating in a separate trial of nortriptyline (median dose=77.5 mg/day) for treatment of bereavement-related major depressive episodes.

Results: Level of traumatic grief symptoms (ICG) decreased by 53%, and depression ratings (HAM-D) decreased by 54% in paroxetine-treated subjects. Nortriptyline showed clinical effects comparable to those of paroxetine.

Conclusion: Paroxetine may be an effective agent in the treatment of traumatic grief symptoms. A comparison of the paroxetine-treated group with a nortriptyline-treated group suggests that both agents have comparably beneficial effects on the symptoms of traumatic grief (as well as those of depression). However, the higher rate of diagnostic comorbidity in the paroxetine-treated group, together with the greater chronicity of their symptoms and the greater safety of paroxetine in overdose, leads us to favor paroxetine over nortriptyline for traumatic grief symptoms in general psychiatric practice. Further controlled evaluation of paroxetine for traumatic grief is necessary.