Clinical Health Updates

Adjunctive antidepressants not effective for depression in bipolar disorder

Clinical Question:
Is the addition of an antidepressant to a mood stabilizer an effective strategy for short-term treatment of major depressive episodes in patients with bipolar disorder?

Bottom Line:
The use of adjunctive, standard antidepressant medication, as compared with the use of mood stabilizers, was not associated with increased efficacy or with increased risk of treatment-emergent affective switch. Longer-term outcome studies are needed to fully assess the benefits and risks of antidepressant therapy for bipolar disorder.

Reference:
Sachs GS, Nierenberg AA, Calabrese JR, et al. Effectiveness of adjunctive antidepressant treatment for bipolar depression. N Engl J Med 2007;356:1711-1722.

Study Design:
Randomized controlled trial (double-blinded)

Synopsis:
Episodes of depression are the most frequent cause of disability among patients with bipolar disorder. The effectiveness and safety of standard antidepressant agents for depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder (bipolar depression) have not been well studied. The authors determined whether adjunctive antidepressant therapy reduces symptoms of bipolar depression without increasing the risk of mania. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we randomly assigned subjects with bipolar depression to receive up to 26 weeks of treatment with a mood stabilizer plus adjunctive antidepressant therapy or a mood stabilizer plus a matching placebo, under conditions generalizable to routine clinical care. A standardized clinical monitoring form adapted from the mood-disorder modules of the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, was used at all follow-up visits. The primary outcome was the percentage of subjects in each treatment group meeting the criterion for a durable recovery (8 consecutive weeks of euthymia). Secondary effectiveness outcomes and rates of treatment-emergent affective switch (a switch to mania or hypomania early in the course of treatment) were also examined. Forty-two of the 179 subjects (23.5%) receiving a mood stabilizer plus adjunctive antidepressant therapy had a durable recovery, as did 51 of the 187 subjects (27.3%) receiving a mood stabilizer plus a matching placebo (P=0.40). Modest nonsignificant trends favoring the group receiving a mood stabilizer plus placebo were observed across the secondary outcomes. Rates of treatment-emergent affective switch were similar in the two groups.