Interferon and Depression

Hepatitis C treatment drug raises concerns about mood disorder

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

(RxWiki News) Depressive symptoms may be present in patients with hepatitis C before they begin treatment. But research suggests that the hepatitis C drug, interferon, also contributes to depression.

Researchers wanted to know if depression for hepatitis C patients was a matter of a pre-existing mood disorder or a side effect of the medication - interferon.

Data suggests that while both can be factors, a close eye needs to be kept on patients using interferon.

"Consult with a therapist while taking interferon."

Dr. Murali S. Rao MD., professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the Loyola University Medical Center, co-authored a study that looked into the link between the Hepatitis C treatment drug, Interferon, and depressive symptoms.

“Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States. At least 4 million people have been exposed and 3.2 million are chronic carriers of the disease.”, claim study authors, who note the exclusion of those not seeking or receiving care.

The World Health Organization estimates around 180 million people have HCV, and over 350,000 actually die every year from liver disease related to HCV.

Though there are several drugs on the market to treat HCV, interferon is widely used. Proper management of interferon’s side effects is important to quality of life and survival of patients with HCV. Both pre-existing depression and interferon-induced depression are evaluated in this study.

The researchers state, “Depression is a relatively frequent and potentially serious complication of interferon therapy for hepatitis C virus infection.

However, other etiologies [causes] of depression may coexist and have to be carefully excluded.”

10-40 percent of patients undergoing interferon treatments were diagnosed with depression, depending upon screening methods. With a group of patients that began to feel depressed around week 12 of interferon treatments, the use of the antidepressant Celexa helped lower their depression scores by 50 percent within six weeks.

21 percent of patients developed depression within the first 12 weeks of treatment with interferon. Long-term interferon treatments resulted in 23 percent of patients reporting depression at week 24 and 48 percent at week 48. Depression was often related to fatigue and sleep disturbances.

Interferon can alter the level of serotonin in the brain, which can affect mood.

Changes in levels of depression should be assessed every two weeks while on interferon. Monthly sessions with a psychiatrist also helped improve depressive symptoms in many of the patients. 

This study was published in the International Journal of Interferon, Cytokine and Mediator Research, 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
May 7, 2012
Last Updated:
May 9, 2012