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Sleep Med. 2009 Apr;10(4):416-21. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2008.04.004. Epub 2008 Aug 26.

Exacerbation of cataplexy following gradual withdrawal of antidepressants: manifestation of probable protracted rebound cataplexy.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, ENH-Evanston Hospital, Evanston, IL 60201, USA.



A double-blind, placebo-controlled sodium oxybate trial provided a unique opportunity to compare changes in cataplexy following gradual withdrawal from antidepressants in narcolepsy patients.


Of 228 enrolled patients, 71 discontinued antidepressant therapy. Data from 57 patients were available for analysis: 37 patients discontinued tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and 20 discontinued selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The trial included a 21-day withdrawal phase followed by 18-day washout and 14-day single-blind treatment phases. Two additional weeks were permitted for withdrawal from fluoxetine due to its long half-life. Weekly cataplexy attacks were recorded throughout the trial. No historical data on the frequency of cataplexy prior to treatment with antidepressants was available.


Among the patients who were and were not withdrawn from antidepressants treatment, the median frequency of baseline weekly cataplexy was similar (17.5 vs. 14.0, respectively). As expected, significant between-group differences emerged by the end of the washout period (52.04 vs. 15.25, respectively; p<0.05); however, the frequency of cataplexy events became similar again by the end of the trial (16.5 vs. 17.5, respectively).


Patients gradually withdrawn from antidepressants experienced a significant increase in cataplexy, but eventually returned to their baseline frequency, comparable to previously untreated control patients. Compared to SSRIs, discontinuation from TCAs was associated with a greater increase in cataplexy attacks.

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