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Light Therapy For Nonseasonal Major Depressive Disorder?

While bright light therapy already has a place in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, a recent trial spotlights its utility beyond the winter months.

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PRACTICE CHANGER
Consider treatment with bright light therapy, alone or in combination with fluoxetine, for patients with nonseasonal major depressive disorder.1

Strength of Recommendation
B: Based on a single moderate-quality randomized controlled trial.1

A 38-year-old woman recently diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) without a seasonal pattern presents to discuss treatment options. Her Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) score is 22, and she is not suicidal. Should you consider bright light therapy in addition to pharmacotherapy?

MDD is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses in the United States, affecting approximately one in five adults at some point in their lives.2 Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors are considered effective firstline pharmacotherapy options for MDD.2,3 Despite their effectiveness, however, studies have shown that only about 40% of patients with MDD achieve remission with firstline or secondline drugs.2 In addition, pharmaco­logic agents have a higher frequency of treatment-associated adverse effects than fluorescent light therapy.4

A Cochrane systematic review of 20 studies (N = 620) demonstrated the effectiveness of combined light therapy and pharmacotherapy in treating nonseasonal MDD but found no benefit to light used as monotherapy.5 However, the majority of the studies were of poor quality, occurred in the inpatient setting, and lasted less than four weeks.

In a five-week, controlled, double-blind trial not included in the Cochrane review, 102 patients with nonseasonal MDD were randomized to receive either active treatment (bright light therapy) plus sertraline (50 mg/d) or sham light treatment (using a dim red light) plus sertraline (50 mg/d). The investigators found a statistically significant reduction in depression score in the active treatment group compared to the sham light group, based on the HAM-D, the Hamilton 6-Item Subscale, the Melancholia Scale, and the seven atypical items from the Structured Interview Guide for the Seasonal Affective Disorder version of the HAM-D.6,7

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