Double-blind comparison of fluoxetine and nortriptyline in the treatment of moderate to severe major depression
Background: Depression is an international public health problem. Impairment in social and occupational functioning, increased comorbidity with other psychiatric and medical conditions, and an increased risk of mortality are a few of its consequences. Some psychiatrists have the impression that selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors may not work as well as tricyclic antidepressants in severe depression and/or melancholia. On the contrary, there is a general belief that selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors are superior to the tricyclic anti-depressants in having fewer side-effects, particularly cardiovascular effects. The objective of this double-blind study was to compare the efficacy and safety of fluoxetine and nortriptyline in patients with moderate to severe major depression. Methods: A total of 48 adult outpatients who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), forth edition for major depression, based on the structured clinical interview for DSM IV participated in the trial. Patients had a baseline Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression score of at least 20. In this double-blind, single-center trial, patients were randomly assigned to receive nortriptyline 150 mg/day (group 1) or fluoxetine 60 mg/day (group 2), for 6-weeks. The outcome of the two groups was assessed using Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, a side-effect checklist and a regular ECG assessment. Results: The results suggest that the efficacy of nortriptyline is superior to fluoxetine in this group of major depressed patients. No significant differences were observed between dropout rates in the two groups but anti-cholinergic side-effects were significantly more frequent with nortriptyline than with fluoxetine but there was no significant difference in cardiovascular effects in particular QTc prolongation. Conclusion: The results of the current study suggest that nortriptyline was more effective than fluoxetine in the treatment of moderate to severe depression. A larger study is warranted.