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Cancer Health Center

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Depression (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Intervention

Table 2. Antidepressant Medications for Ambulatory Adult Patients continued...

The pharmacokinetic profiles of SSRIs permit them to be given once a day, thus improving patient compliance.[25][Level of evidence: II] Sertraline and paroxetine have a half-life of approximately 20 hours; thus, steady-state systemic concentrations can be achieved within 1 week after starting treatment and altering dosage or administration schedules. In comparison, repeated dosing appears to inhibit fluoxetine metabolism; consequently, both fluoxetine and its active metabolite, norfluoxetine, may be present in the body for weeks after discontinuing treatment.

Drug-drug interactions

Clinicians who prescribe and monitor patients receiving antidepressants should also become familiar with their potential for interactions with other medications.[26] The SSRIs venlafaxine, nefazodone, and mirtazapine are metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes; their pharmacokinetics may be altered, or they may affect the clearance of drugs metabolized by the same enzymes. Marked differences exist, however, between the SSRIs and SSRI metabolites with regard to their effects on specific cytochrome P450 enzymes.[18] For example, both fluoxetine and norfluoxetine inhibit CYP3A4 isoenzyme; however, the metabolite is more potent than fluoxetine and in view of its longer half-life the potential for interactions may persist for weeks after fluoxetine is discontinued.[27] Understanding the similarities and differences in their pharmacology can aid clinicians in using these agents optimally and avoiding clinically important pharmacokinetic drug-drug interactions. In addition, since all SSRIs are highly protein-bound to albumin (± alpha-1 acid glycoprotein), clinicians must consider their potential for interactions with other highly protein-bound medications. Sertraline and paroxetine may be preferred in patients with renal or hepatic dysfunction since they are metabolized and excreted as inactive compounds.[28]

Atypical antidepressants

  • Bupropion

    Bupropion is a unique alternative to tricyclics and SSRIs for treating persons with depression and cancer, especially when depression is accompanied by fatigue. Pharmacologically, bupropion is a weak inhibitor of monoamine reuptake and demonstrates a slight preference for dopamine transport inhibition; however, it may be metabolically converted to active substances with amphetamine-like activity that affect both dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake. Bupropion generally does not cause sexual dysfunction; therefore, it may be useful in treating patients who wish to remain sexually active and those who have experienced sexual dysfunction with other antidepressants. Bupropion treatment is initiated with doses of 75 mg once daily, preferably in the early part of the day. Patients may initially require a moderate- to long-acting sedative/hypnotic drug at bedtime for the insomnia, agitation, and motor restlessness sometimes associated with bupropion. Risk of seizure with bupropion may be as much as 4 times greater than is associated with other antidepressants. Single doses should not exceed 150 mg, a dose increase should not be greater than 100 mg of bupropion per day, and dose increases should be gradual-at least 3 days after a previous increase in dose. Because the risk of seizure markedly increases in patients receiving bupropion at doses between 450 mg and 650 mg, the total daily dose should not exceed 450 mg. Bupropion is contraindicated in patients with malignant diseases involving the brain and a history of cranial trauma or seizure disorder,[29]and in persons with a history of bulimia.[30][Level of evidence: II]

  • Venlafaxine

    Venlafaxine affects both norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake and enhances serotonin neurotransmission.[31] Venlafaxine does not produce the same uncomfortable antimuscarinic and antiadrenergic side effects as the TCAs; however, it does produce side effects similar to those produced by SSRIs, particularly nausea, headache, somnolence, and dry mouth. In some patients, venlafaxine may cause sustained increases in blood pressure; blood pressure should therefore be evaluated before treatment is started, monitored after treatment is initiated, and monitored after doses are increased. Venlafaxine is given twice a day, with food.

  • Trazodone

    The primary actions of the atypical antidepressant trazodone is not well established. Although it antagonizes serotonin reuptake, it is many times weaker in this respect compared with SSRIs. Trazodone is active and is metabolized to compounds that have agonistic activity at some serotonin receptors (5-HT1). It may have additional active metabolites that contribute to its clinical activity.[31]

  • Mirtazapine

    There is growing clinical experience with mirtazapine in persons with cancer. Pharmacologically, mirtazapine is a noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant. It competitively antagonizes presynaptic alpha-adrenergic receptors (alpha-2) and serotonin receptors (5-HT2 and 5-HT3), the net result of which enhances norepinephrine release and noradrenergic neurotransmission.[31];[32][Level of evidence: I] Sedation is the predominating side effect at subtherapeutic low doses (<15 mg/d), and anecdotal evidence suggests that sedation decreases at higher doses. Its side-effect profile also includes increased appetite, which may cause weight gain, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation.[33] Although it is a structural analog of mianserin (an antidepressant that is marketed in Europe), mirtazapine has rarely been implicated in producing severe blood dyscrasias, including agranulocytosis, as has mianserin.[34] Little is known about mirtazapine interactions with other drugs, but it is thought to have a lesser risk of clinically significant drug interactions than SSRIs.[35] The initial dose for mirtazapine is 15 mg per day given at bedtime. Doses may be increased at intervals not less than 1 to 2 weeks, up to a maximum daily dose of 45 mg.

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