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Pharmacologic Treatment of Dimensional Anxious Depression: A Review

Dawn F. Ionescu, MD; Mark J. Niciu, MD, PhD; Erica M. Richards, MD, PhD; and Carlos A. Zarate Jr, MD

ABSTRACT

Objective: To review the pharmacologic treatment of dimensionally defined anxious depression.

Data Sources: English-language, adult human research articles published between 1949 and February 2013 were identified via PUBMED and EMBASE. The search term was treatment of anxious depression.

Study Selection: We identified and reviewed 304 original articles. Of these, 31 studies of patients with anxious depression, who were treated with an antidepressant or antipsychotic, are included in this review.

Data Extraction: All studies explicitly used a dimensional definition of anxious depression. All patients were treated with either antidepressants or antipsychotic medications.

Results: Of the 31 relevant psychopharmacologic studies identified, 7 examined patients receiving only 1 medication, 2 studied cotherapeutic strategies, 1 examined antipsychotic augmentation, and 21 compared multiple medications. Eleven were pooled analyses from several studies. All studies were of adults (18–92 years old). The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale Anxiety/Somatization Factor Score was used to define anxious depression in 71% of the studies, and 77.4% were post hoc analyses of previous datasets. Seventeen studies found selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and/or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) to be useful for successfully treating anxious depression. However, patients with anxious depression were less likely to experience sustained response or remission. Furthermore, baseline anxious depression puts patients at greater risk for side effect burden.

Conclusions: Despite achieving response with SSRIs, SNRIs, and TCAs, patients with dimensionally defined anxious depression do not maintain response or remission and often report a larger burden of side effects compared to nonanxious depressive patients, suggesting that it is a harder-to-treat subtype of major depressive disorder.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2014;16(3):doi:10.4088/PCC.13r01621

Submitted: December 20, 2013; accepted February 5, 2014.

Published online: May 29, 2014.

Corresponding author: Dawn F. Ionescu, MD, Bldg 10, CRC Room 7-5545, 10 Center Drive, MSC 1282, Bethesda, MD 20892 (dawn.ionescu@nih.gov).