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Remission Versus Response: The New Gold Standard of Antidepressant Care

Martin B. Keller, MD

Published: March 1, 2004

Article Abstract

As descriptors for the clinical course and treatment of depressive illness, terms such as response,remission, and recovery have evolved with our understanding of the disease, yet have been inconsistentlyapplied as measures of outcome in clinical trials. Indeed, a wide variety of definitions may befound in contemporary study reports. This article reviews the breadth of definitions, the ways inwhich they affect interpretation of clinical study data, and their relationship to clinical practice. Therapeuticexperience over the past decade indicates that remission is the optimal outcome of treatment,and patients said to have remitted generally are considered to be well. By some standards, however,patients may be considered in remission despite harboring one or two minor symptoms. The presenceof residual symptoms, like continued functional or social impairment, is considered a strong predictorof relapse or recurrence. Wellness thus must be determined by symptom level, functional status, andincreasingly (as our understanding of brain neurophysiology grows), the nature of pathophysiologicchanges. The various factors that may predispose patients toward or away from a state of sustainedrecovery also are reviewed, helping to inform a concept of remission more consistent with true wellness.Defining such a target can serve to sharpen the focus of therapeutic intervention in the clinicalenvironment. This dynamic is reinforced via the integration of current best therapeutic thinking in researchsettings, leading to clinical trials that more closely approximate an ideal, remission-focusedtreatment regimen.

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