Healthcare professionals should consider antidepressants for patients with physical illnesses

Antidepressants can help depressed patients with physical illness, and healthcare professionals should consider them more often, new research underscores.

Antidepressants can help depressed patients with physical illness, and healthcare professionals should consider them more often, according to researchers in London.

While approximately 10% of patients with physical diseases are thought to suffer from depression, studies suggest physicians are less likely to prescribe antidepressants because they are not sure if the medications will work well.

A systematic review by British scientists found the drugs were more effective than placebos at treating depression in patients with physical illnesses, including stroke, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and various types of cancer.

The findings are already being used to update European guidelines on treating depression, experts said.

“I see many patients struggling with the effects of physical disease on their mental health,” said Matthew Hotopf of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and leader of the study. “This is a critical area of research that will help doctors maximize a patient’s treatment and recovery from the mental and physical symptoms of illness.”

The Cochrane Library review that analyzed 51 studies on antidepressants versus placebos, found that for every 6 people being treated, 1 more was likely to benefit at 6 to 8 weeks if they were taking antidepressants.

Most of the studies looked at selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like fluoxetine or at tricyclic antidepressants, such as desipramine. About 3,600 patients were involved.

“This research is important for millions of patients and families who are experiencing physical illness,” said Irene Higginson of the Cicely Saunders Institute at King’s College London, who worked on the study. “Until now, many doctors and nurses were worried that these treatments did not work well in people with physical illness. This result shows that they are usually of benefit.”