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Study finds depressed COVID patients respond better to antidepressants

2021 Oct 05, 14:58, Amsterdam

A pilot study has shown that depressed patients who have suffered from COVID respond better to standard antidepressants than people who have not had COVID.

The findings of the study were published in the journal 'European Neuropsychopharmacology'.

Around 40 per cent of COVID sufferers report the development of depression within 6 months of infection. The inflammation caused by COVID is believed to be the main reason for the development of depression. Now new research has shown that around 90 per cent of patients who have suffered from COVID respond to SSRIs, significantly more than would be expected.

Lead researcher Mario Mazza MD, San Raffaele University, Milano said, "We know that COVID has led to an epidemic of mental health problems. Post-COVID depression is a serious issue, with around 40 per cent of COVID patients developing depression within 6 months of infection. But this study indicates that patients who have had COVID have a better chance of managing their depression than we thought."

The researchers, from Professor Francesco Benedetti's Laboratory of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology at San Raffaele Hospital in Milano, treated 58 patients who had developed post-COVID depression with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) such as sertraline, paroxetine, fluvoxamine, and citalopram.

Normally around a third of patients don't respond to SSRIs, but the team found that that 91 per cent of those with post-COVID depression responded to treatment within 4 weeks (response was measured using the standard Hamilton Depression Rating Scale: a patient was considered to have responded if they showed a 50 per cent reduction in the scale after 4 weeks of treatment).

"This is a pilot study, but it does indicate that post-COVID depression is treatable. We would normally have expected around 40 of the 58 patients to have responded positively to treatment, but in fact, we found that 53 of the 58 responded," Dr Mazza said.

"Considering the anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of SSRI, we hypothesised that post-COVID depression triggered by infection and sustained by infection-related systemic inflammation could particularly benefit from antidepressant treatment. We are now taking this work forward to a larger scale trial," Dr Mazza added.

"We also want to investigate whether SSRIs can also help with other post-COVID symptoms, such as cognitive impairment and fatigue, and to look at the role of inflammation in post-COVID depression," Dr Mazza explained.

Commenting, Dr Livia De Picker MD PhD (University of Antwerp, Belgium) said this study is of particular importance to the large group of patients and clinicians who are currently dealing with long COVID syndromes.

"Long COVID consists of a combination of persistent physical, psychological and neurocognitive symptoms after COVID-19 infection, which may present very different in different individuals. Even if we still do not understand all the causes of long COVID, this study indicates post-COVID depressive symptoms respond very well to serotonergic antidepressants," Dr Picker said.

"This does not come as a surprise to me, as recent studies have pointed out such compounds may also protect patients against severe COVID-19 illness and several antidepressants are currently under study as COVID-19 treatment options. I hope the current findings will prompt further research into the mechanisms through which antidepressants can help against both acute and long-term COVID-19 complaints," Dr Picker added.

"Most importantly, these findings stress the importance of adequate screening and treatment of mental health symptoms in patients who suffer from persistent health problems after having been exposed to COVID-19," Dr Picker concluded.


health Covid patient depression study Research
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