However, it is important to note that there are almost no studies comparing benzodiazepines to newer antidepressants for anxious depression. One double-blind 6-week study of 112 patients7 compared fluvoxamine with lorazepam for mixed anxiety and depression in general practice. There were no significant differences between treatments at any point in the study. Lorazepam produced more sedation, while fluvoxamine produced more nausea and vomiting.
We clearly need randomized controlled trials comparing benzodiazepines with newer antidepressants in anxious depression. However, as in the case with anxiety disorders, these types of trials are strikingly missing.
Any clinical wisdom?
Anxiety could be a serious clinical problem in the treatment of patients with depressive disorder(s). We have not always paid enough attention to anxiety and related issues in depressed patients. Interestingly, anxiety has not been listed among symptoms of major depression disorder (MDD) in several editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Only and finally did DSM-58 add a specifier “with anxious distress” for both MDD and persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), although this specifier still avoids the word “anxiety” in the description of its symptomatology.
It is difficult to disentangle whether the anxiety is part of depressive disorder symptomatology or whether it is a comorbid anxiety disorder. As I noted in a previous article,9 psychiatric comorbidity is a confusing phenomenon. Nevertheless, anxiety and depression are highly comorbid or co-symptomatologic. In a study by Kessler et al,10 45.7% of survey responders with lifetime MDD had ≥1 lifetime anxiety disorder. Similarly, in a STAR*D study,11 in Level 1, 53.2% of patients had anxious depression.
Kessler et al10 raised an interesting question about the importance of temporally primary anxiety disorders as risk markers vs causal risk factors for the onset and persistence of subsequent MDD, including the possibility that anxiety disorders might primarily be risk markers for MDD onset and causal risk factors for MDD persistence. As is well-known, mood disorders should be treated as soon as possible after they are diagnosed, and should be treated vigorously, addressing the major symptomatology.
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