New Antidepressant for Hep C

Hepatitis C drugs can cause depression so preventative antidepressants may be the answer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Pegylated interferon-a drugs used to manage hepatitis C can cause major depression. Preventative use of the antidepressant, escitalopram or Lexapro, may be the solution for some patients.

A recent double-blind clinical trial gave Lexapro or a placebo to hepatitis C patients about to enter peginterferon treatment.

Results showed nearly half of patients experienced a reduction in depression.

"Talk to your doctor about your hepatitis C related depression."

Martin Schaefer, MD, from the department of psychiatry, psychotherapy and addiction medicine at Kliniken Essen-Mitte in Essen, Germany, led an investigation into preventing depression in hepatitis C patients.

Peginterferon is a common drug taken by hepatitis C patients. Peginterferon has been known to cause depression in patients with no previous mental illness.

Around 70 percent of hepatitis C patients treated with drugs like peginterferon report mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Nearly 40 percent report major depression.

For the trial, researchers examined 181 hepatitis C patients from 21 hospitals in Germany from 2004-2008.

The antidepressant, Lexapro, was given to 90 of the patients, while a placebo was given to the remaining 91.  Lexapro was given two weeks before peginterferon treatment began and continued for the next two to four years.

The Lexapro group scored 32 percent vs. the placebo group’s 59 percent on the depression scale.

Major depression was found in only 8 percent of the Lexapro group compared to 19 percent of the placebo group.

Authors concluded that Lexapro was effective in preventing peginterferon-associated depression in hepatitis C patients who did not have prior mental illness.

It is notable that the makers of the drug funded the study. It is also notable that the study reported Lexapro lowered risk of depression by nearly half.

Further research is needed to repeat these findings. 

This study was published in July in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Funding was provided by Roche Pharma and Lundbeck.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 24, 2012
Last Updated:
February 15, 2013