Bipolar Depression: Evidence, Judgment Rule: Expert Analysis from the Annual Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

By Zoler, Mitchel L. | Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Bipolar Depression: Evidence, Judgment Rule: Expert Analysis from the Annual Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology


Zoler, Mitchel L., Clinical Psychiatry News


PARIS - Existing evidence on the best ways to treat bipolar depression is limited and must balance against what works in the real world based on empirical experience. When treating bipolar depression "we are in the land of the uncertain, where [psychiatrists] must improvise and do their best with what's available," Dr. Andrew A. Nierenberg said at the meeting.

The trials that get drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration often do not inform routine care. Patients in trials often differ from "real" patients, generally have milder disease, and are less susceptible to the worst outcomes. The published evidence base for treating bipolar depression should not be viewed as synonymous with best practice. Treatment is not a cookbook, and evidencebased medicine is difficult to implement, said Dr. Nierenberg, medical director of the bipolar clinic and research program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Med ical School, both in Boston.

Treatment of patients with bipolar disorder in actual practice requires personalization, including prescribing agents that work and expecting patients to continue to take them despite possible adverse effects. Published evidence leaves it unclear how best to treat any specific patient, he said. That requires not only evidence but also clinical experience and knowledge of the results obtained by others, followed by feedback and outcomes assessment to guide future changes in treatment.

Perhaps the biggest question in the treatment of bipolar depression today is whether antidepressants work. A 2004 meta-analysis said they did (Am. J. Psychiatry 2004;161:1537-47), but this was "a terrible" meta-analysis because the over all numbers of patients were small, and the results from a single study heavily in fluenced the overall meta-analysis re sults, Dr. Nierenberg said. In addition, results from the STEP-BD (Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder) trial showed that adding an antidepressant to the mood stabilizer lithium gave no significant added benefit (N. …

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