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Yet Another Antidepressant May Help Treat Anxiety

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WebMD Health News

June 5, 2000 -- Effexor is a relative newcomer to the ever-growing ranks of antidepressant drugs. Now, researchers have discovered that, like many of the newer antidepressants, it also may be effective for treating people with anxiety disorders.

A recent study found that Effexor, in its extended-release form, could help people with generalized anxiety disorder, one of the most common anxiety disorders. GAD is a disabling disorder characterized by excessive worry about many aspects of life. Patients have trouble sleeping, poor concentration, and experience bodily symptoms like tremors, sweating, and stomach upsets.

Although talking therapies are available, patients who seek help from doctors are usually treated with either BuSpar (buspirone) or one of the benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Ativan. While these medications are usually effective, BuSpar can take a long time to start working, and benzodiazepines can be unsafe and addictive, so the researchers felt there was a need to find suitable alternatives.

"The benzodiazepines are better for the very short term -- two to three weeks -- but many anxious patients need to be treated for longer," study author Karl Rickels, MD, tells WebMD. "The problem with benzodiazepines is that they produce dependency in long-term use. So far, we only have buspirone for the longer term, so it would be good to have another drug that we can use." Rickels is a professor of psychiatry and chief of the mood and anxieties disorders section at the University of Pennsylvania.

Effexor, whose generic name is venlafaxine, is among a new class of antidepressants that act via two different pathways in the brain to counteract depression. Several studies have shown that an older drug, which acts in a similar way to Effexor in the body, is effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder, so the researchers wanted to see if Effexor also would work.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, included 377 participants from across the U.S. For eight weeks, they received either a placebo or varying doses of Effexor XR. Effexor was found to be effective in reducing anxiety, and patients taking a dose of 225 mg showed the most improvement.

But whether Effexor showed real therapeutic value remains unclear, says Walton Roth, MD, who reviewed the study for WebMD. "One problem with the study as it is written is that it is unclear whether the ... improvement [seen] is great enough to be clinically important," Roth says. "The differences in change between drug and placebo do not seem very large." Roth is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

But based on the study data, Rickels believes Effexor is a good drug for patients who need therapy lasting longer than four weeks. "We assume that the drug is safe for the long term, but there is no good data available," he says. "It has been used as an antidepressant, and there is safety data for that purpose ... but there is no good data on how long patients with GAD will need to take this drug."

He recommends that more studies be conducted, not only to determine the safety of Effexor for use in anxiety disorders, but also to see if it is effective.

This study was funded by Wyeth-Ayerst, makers of Effexor.

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