Influence of baseline severity on the effects of SSRIs in depression: an item-based, patient-level post-hoc analysis
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2019

Background: Reports claiming that antidepressants are effective only in patients with severe depression have affected treatment guidelines but these reports usually use a disputed measure of improvement, a decrease in the sum-score of the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS-17), and are based on group-level rather than patient-level data. Method: In this item-based, patient-level, post-hoc analysis, we pooled data from all completed, acute-phase, placebo-controlled, industry-sponsored, H DRS-based trials of the SSRIs citalopram, paroxetine, or sertraline in adult major depression. Patient-level data were pooled and subjected to item-based post-hoc analyses to assess the effect of baseline severity of depression on the response to treatment as assessed with HDRS-17 sum score, the depressed mood item of the HDRS, a six-item HDRS subscale (HDRS-6), and the remaining 11 HDRS items not included in this subscale (non-HDRS-6). Patients were defined as having non-severe depression if they had a baseline HDRS-17 sum score of 18 points or less and as having severe depression if they had a score of 27 points or more. Findings: Our study population consisted of 8262 patients from 28 placebo-controlled SSRI trials. Participants were treated with either citalopram (n=744), paroxetine (n=2981), sertraline (n=1202), fluoxetine (active-control group; n=754), or placebo (n=2581). 654 patients were defined as having non-severe depression and 1377 as having severe depression. Patients with non-severe and severe depression did not differ with respect to SSRI-induced decrease in depressed mood and other HDRS symptoms belonging to the HDRS-6 subscale. However, after exclusion of patients with rare extreme baseline values, a positive association was seen between severity and efficacy when using HDRS-17 sum score as the effect parameter. This result was largely due to a more pronounced response to treatment with respect to non-HDRS-6 items in patients with severe depression than in those with non-severe depression. This outcome could be explained by non-HDRS-6 items, more so than HDRS-6 items, being more severe and prevalent at baseline in severe than in non-severe cases; hence, less room was left for improvement in these areas in patients with non-severe depression. Interpretation: The use of an outcome measure that includes symptoms that rate low at baseline in patients with non-severe depression might result in the interpretation that SSRIs are ineffective in these patients. With respect to alleviation of HDRS-6 items, SSRIs appear to be as effective in patients with non-severe depression as in those with severe depression.


Fredrik Hieronymus

Göteborgs universitet

Alexander Lisinski

Göteborgs universitet

Staffan Nilsson

Göteborgs universitet

Chalmers, Matematiska vetenskaper, Tillämpad matematik och statistik

Elias Eriksson

Göteborgs universitet

The Lancet Psychiatry

22150366 (ISSN) 22150374 (eISSN)

Vol. 6 9 745-752









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