Yet Another Antidepressant May Help Treat Anxiety
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
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
"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
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
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
This study was funded by Wyeth-Ayerst, makers of Effexor.