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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD001130.

Drugs versus placebo for dysthymia.

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Department of Mental Health, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Avenida Duque de Caxias, 250, Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, BRAZIL, 96100.

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Dysthymia is a depressive disorder of chronic nature but of less severity than major depression, which depressive symptoms are more or less continuous for at least two years. The aim of this review was to conduct a systematic review of all RCTs comparing drugs and placebo for dysthymia.


Electronic searches of Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycLIT, Biological Abstracts and LILACS; reference searching; personal communication; conference abstracts; unpublished trials from the pharmaceutical industry; book chapters on the treatment of depression.


The inclusion criteria for all randomised controlled trials were that they should focus on the use of drugs versus placebo for dysthymic patients. Exclusion criteria were: non randomised, mixed major depression/ dysthymia (trials not providing separate data) and depression secondary to other disorders (e.g. substance abuse).


The reviewers extracted the data independently. In order to achieve an intention-to-treat analysis, when trials failed to report it was assumed that people who died or dropped out had no improvement. Authors of relevant trials were contacted for additional and missing data. Absence of treatment response as defined by authors was the main measure of outcome used. Relative Risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of dichotomous data were calculated with the Random Effects Model. Where possible, number needed to treat (NNT) and number needed to harm (NNH) were estimated, taking the reciprocal of the absolute risk reduction.


Currently the review includes 15 trials. Similar results were obtained in terms of efficacy for different groups of drugs, such as tricyclic (TCA), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) and other drugs (sulpiride, amineptine, and ritanserin). The pooled RR for absence of treatment response was 0.68 (95% CI 0.59-0.78) for TCA and the NNT was 4.3 (95% CI 3.2-6.5). SSRIs showed similar RR for this outcome: 0.64 (95% CI 0.55-0.74), the NNT being 4.7 (95% CI 3.5-6.9). Concerning MAOIs, the RR was 0.59 (95% CI 0.48-0.71) and the NNT was 2.9 (95% CI 2.2-4.3). Other drugs (amisulpride, amineptine and ritanserin) showed similar results in terms of absence of treatment response. Using more stringent criteria for improvement - full remission - the results were unchanged. Patients treated on TCA were more likely to report adverse events, compared with placebo.


Drugs are effective in the treatment of dysthymia with no differences between and within class of drugs. Tricyclic antidepressants are more likely to cause adverse events and dropouts. As dysthymia is a chronic condition, there remains little information on quality of life and medium or long-term outcome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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