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Psychother Psychosom. 2002 Jul-Aug;71(4):190-4.

Treatment approaches to major depressive disorder relapse. Part 1: dose increase.

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  • 1Lilly Research Laboratories, Indianapolis, Ind 46285, USA.



Although continuing antidepressant treatment after patients have responded to medication has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of relapse, this risk is not eliminated. A number of theories have been proposed to account for this apparent loss of efficacy. A common initial approach to managing relapse is to increase the dose of antidepressant. We prospectively evaluated the likelihood of response to increasing the fluoxetine doses in patients relapsing during a long-term efficacy study of two fluoxetine dosing regimens.


Patients meeting the DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder with modified HAMD17 scores > or =18 and CGI-severity scores > or =4 were treated for 13 weeks with open-label 20 mg/day fluoxetine in a multicenter US study. Responders (n = 501) were randomized to 20 mg fluoxetine daily, placebo, or 90 mg enteric-coated fluoxetine weekly for 25 weeks of double-blind continuation treatment. If the patients relapsed during the continuation phase, they were offered a 25-week optional rescue treatment phase during which the study medication dose was increased as follows: (1) patients on placebo had treatment with fluoxetine 20 mg/day reinitiated, (2) patients on fluoxetine 20 mg/day had their dose increased to 40 mg/day, and (3) patients on a 90-mg weekly dose had their dose increased to 90 mg twice a week. The results of the rescue phase for the latter two groups who relapsed while on continuation treatment with fluoxetine are reported. Response was defined as a 50% reduction in the modified HAMD17 score since time of relapse and a CGI-severity score < or =2. Additional efficacy analyses included HAMD and CGI-severity changes from baseline to endpoint. Safety measures included assessment of treatment-emergent adverse events, vital signs, and laboratory measures.


Overall, patients relapsing during the continuation treatment responded to an increased dose (57% of the 40-mg-daily group and 72% of the enteric-coated 90-mg-twice-weekly group). Mean modified HAMD17 scores decreased from a mean of approximately 20 to below 8 and were maintained for up to 6 months in the responders. Thirty-five percent of patients either did not respond or initially responded but again relapsed after augmentation of medication.


The patients relapsing after initially responding to fluoxetine can benefit from an increase in fluoxetine dose. These results also generally support increasing dose as a first-line treatment strategy for a patient who has relapsed while taking a previously effective dose of an antidepressant. Increasing enteric-coated fluoxetine 90 mg once weekly to twice weekly appeared to be as well-tolerated and effective in restoring response as increasing a daily fluoxetine dose from 20 to 40 mg.

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