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Original Research

Depression: Diagnosis and Management for the Primary Care Physician

James M. Ferguson, MD

Published: October 1, 2000

Article Abstract

Background: Much has beenlearned in recent years about the diagnosis and treatment of depression, a serious, commonly overlooked psychiatric illness often seen initially by the primary care physician. The objective of this article is to review the diagnosis and treatment of depression in primary care practice.

Method: Relevant articles on depression were identified by a comprehensive MEDLINE search and classified into the following categories: diagnosis and screening, nonpharmacologic therapy, pharmacologic therapy, newer antidepressant agents, and maximizing antidepressant therapy. The importance to primary care practice was considered in determining the significance of each article reviewed.

Results: Because no laboratory tests exist for depression and no biological markers can be measured routinely, the diagnosis of depression must be made with a number of reliable depression scales and questionnaires that can be completed quickly in the primary care setting. The considerable overlap between depressive and anxiety disorders further complicates an accurate diagnosis. Remission (i.e., absence of symptoms) is the ultimate goal of therapy for patients who have depressive symptoms.

Conclusion: Many patients can be treated safely and effectively for depression in the primary care setting with pharmacologic therapy, which, if completely successful, can lead to full remission of the disorder.

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