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How Long Should Patients With Psychotic Depression Stay on the Antipsychotic Medication? [CME]

J Clin Psychiatry 2003;64(4):390-396

Background: Patients who have major depression with psychotic features have greater morbidity and mortality than patients with nonpsychotic major depression. In particular, relapse and recurrence have been reported to occur more frequently in patients with psychotic depression than nonpsychotic depression. Despite the frequent relapse and recurrence in major depression with psychotic features, there are few studies of the efficacy of continuation and maintenance treatments.

Method: Forty patients with a diagnosis of unipolar DSM-III-R major depression with psychotic features were treated with fluoxetine and perphenazine for 5 weeks after granting written informed consent. The patients who responded to treatment continued to receive the combination for an additional 3 months. If a patient was stable for 4 months on treatment with the combination, the patient was then gradually tapered off perphenazine treatment. For patients who exhibited impending relapse, perphenazine was restarted. Impending relapse was defined as any of the following: (1) symptoms meeting DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder (with or without psychotic features), (2) a total score of >= 17 on the HAM-D, or (3) the presence of any psychotic symptoms. After 1 year of taking fluoxetine, patients were tapered off fluoxetine treatment. Data were gathered from 1992 to 1997.

Results: Thirty patients responded to the initial 5 weeks of treatment with perphenazine and fluoxetine. After taper of perphenazine following 4 months of treatment with fluoxetine and perphenazine, 22 (73%) of the 30 patients exhibited no signs of relapse over the next 11 months (8 months of fluoxetine monotherapy followed by a taper of fluoxetine and 3 additional months of assessment). Patients who showed signs of relapse after taper of the antipsychotic were more likely to have had a longer duration of the current episode and a history of more frequent past episodes and were more likely to be younger (under the age of 30 years).

Conclusion: The data from this study suggest that a majority of patients who have major depression with psychotic features do not require treatment with antipsychotic medication for more than 4 months.