Spotlight on sertraline in the management of major depressive disorder in elderly patients.

Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) with well established antidepressant and anxiolytic activity. Results from several well designed trials show that sertraline (50-200 mg/day) is effective in the treatment of major depressive disorder in elderly patients (> or =60 years of age). Primary endpoints in most studies included the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), Clinical Global Impression score and the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale. Sertraline was significantly more effective than placebo and was as effective as fluoxetine, nortriptyline and imipramine in elderly patients. During one trial, amitriptyline was significantly more effective than sertraline (mean reduction from baseline on one of six primary outcomes [HDRS]), although no quantitative data were provided. Subgroup analysis of data from a randomised, double-blind trial in elderly patients with major depressive disorder suggests that vascular morbidity, diabetes mellitus or arthritis does not affect the antidepressant effect of sertraline. Secondary endpoints from these clinical trials suggest that sertraline has significant benefits over nortriptyline in terms of quality of life. In addition, significant differences favouring sertraline in comparison with nortriptyline and fluoxetine have been recorded for a number of cognitive functioning parameters. Sertraline is generally well tolerated in elderly patients with major depressive disorder and lacks the marked anticholinergic effects that characterise the adverse event profiles of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). The most frequently reported adverse events in patients aged > or =60 years with major depressive disorder receiving sertraline 50-150 mg/day were dry mouth, headache, diarrhoea, nausea, insomnia, somnolence, constipation, dizziness, sweating and taste abnormalities. The tolerability profile of sertraline is generally similar in younger and elderly patients. Sertraline has a low potential for drug interactions at the level of the cytochromeP450 enzyme system. In addition, no dosage adjustments are warranted for elderly patients solely based on age.

Conclusion: Sertraline is an effective and well tolerated antidepressant for the treatment of major depressive disorder in patients aged > or =60 years. Since elderly patients are particularly prone to the anticholinergic effects of TCAs as a class, SSRIs such as sertraline are likely to be a better choice for the treatment of major depressive disorder in this age group. In addition, sertraline may have advantages over the SSRIs paroxetine, fluoxetine and fluvoxamine in elderly patients because of the drug’s comparatively low potential for drug interactions, which is of importance in patient groups such as the elderly who are likely to receive more than one drug regimen.