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If you or someone you love has ever suffered from clinical depression, you know that there is no quick fix. Treatment, including therapy and medication, may help you function better in your daily life, but new research shows many patients continue to suffer depression symptoms regularly, even while receiving optimal treatment.
The survey, conducted on behalf of Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc, and Lundbeck, found that more than 60 percent of patients reported ongoing symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) – many while taking medication. The results also showed that a majority of patients’ therapists or psychiatrists changed medication in an attempt to improve the outcome.
“Physicians work closely with their patients to find the treatment plans that are most effective, but unfortunately, even when patients take their medication as prescribed, many still deal with MDD symptoms frequently,” said Gerald A. Maguire, MD, DFAPA, professor and chair of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California. “Patients should speak with their physicians about treatment plans and how often they are continuing to experience symptoms of MDD. New treatment advances may be required to better manage their symptoms.”
The Trickle-Down Effect
Participants in the study, conducted last year, answered questions online about the impact of MDD on their lives and their experiences with treatment. More than half of the participants, 61 percent, said they had to deal with depression symptoms at least weekly. They missed an average of 1.8 days of work or school during the past month due to depression.
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Researchers also noted that the disorder prevented many patients from completing daily tasks like cooking, cleaning or paying bills for an average of 6.3 days during the past month. It also caused them to miss social events on an average of 2.4 days per month.
The Medication Dance
About half the patients, 52 percent, said they were taking medication and were either satisfied or very satisfied with their therapy. However, a substantial number still reported ongoing symptoms: 42 percent reported experiencing symptoms at least once a week and 26 percent experienced symptoms several times a week.
If you or someone close to you is in treatment for depression, you may know it’s common for physicians to change medication to find what works best. The survey found that 70 percent of psychiatrists and 54 percent of primary care doctors changed their patients’ treatment at least once a year. But even this rarely eliminates symptoms entirely.
Even after tweaking dosage or type of medication, ongoing depression symptoms are “very common,” said R. Hamish McAllister-Williams, MD, from the UK’s Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, who was not involved with the study. He added that, in general, patients have “some response” to therapy, “but they don’t have full resolution of symptoms.”
Why Change Medications So Often?
“It can occur because somebody has got ongoing symptoms,” said McAllister-Williams. “Often, it is a situation that their current treatment has not been as well optimized as it might have been, either because they’re not on an adequate dose of the drug or they may be better, actually, looking at adding a second medication to their antidepressant, rather than just constantly switching antidepressants.” He added that patients are often “hunting for an antidepressant that is going to make all the difference and sort everything out,” but said “that may or may not be possible.”
What’s The Solution?
McAllister-Williams says physicians shouldn’t necessarily be so quick to switch from one medication to another, but suggests they should also take efforts to closely monitor patients and maximize the effectiveness of specific medications. “That would be my big take on this whole survey,” he said. “I don’t think it is just that we need more medication, I think that it is also that we need to use the current medication better.”
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