Differences with other newer antidepressants are subtle and mostly confined to side effects. Evidence suggests that sertraline may work better than fluoxetine (Prozac) for some subtypes of depression. Treatment of panic disorder with sertraline results in a decrease of the number of panic attacks and an improved quality of life. For obsessive-compulsive disorder, sertraline is not as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); the best results have been achieved by combining CBT with an SSRI. Sertraline is also effective for the treatment of social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder.
The original pre-marketing clinical trials demonstrated only weak-to-moderate efficacy of sertraline for depression. A 2008 review found that only 51% of studies of various SSRI's yielded positive outcomes. Sertraline may be more effective for severe depression.
Evidence does not show a benefit in children with depression.
With depression in dementia, there is no benefit compared to either placebo or mirtazapine.
Comparison with other antidepressants
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) as a group are considered to work better than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for melancholic depression and in inpatients, but not necessarily for simply more severe depression. In line with this generalization, sertraline was no better than placebo in inpatients (see History) and as effective as the TCA clomipramine for severe depression. The comparative efficacy of sertraline and TCAs for melancholic depression has not been studied. A 1998 review suggested that, due to its pharmacology, sertraline may be more efficacious than other SSRIs and equal to TCAs for the treatment of melancholic depression.
A meta-analysis of 12 new-generation antidepressants, sertraline and escitalopram are the best in terms of efficacy and acceptability in the acute-phase treatment of adults with unipolar major depression. Reboxetine was significantly worse.
Sertraline used for the treatment of depression in elderly (older than 60) patients was superior to placebo and comparable to another SSRI fluoxetine, and TCAs amitriptyline, nortriptyline (Pamelor) and imipramine. Sertraline had much lower rates of adverse effects than these TCAs, with the exception of nausea, which occurred more frequently with sertraline. In addition, sertraline appeared to be more effective than fluoxetine or nortriptyline in the older-than-70 subgroup. A 2003 trial of sertraline vs. placebo in elderly patients showed a statistically significant (that is, unlikely to occur by chance), but clinically very modest improvement in depression and no improvement in quality of life.
Sertraline is effective for the treatment of OCD in adults and children. It was better tolerated and, based on intention to treat analysis, performed better than the gold standard of OCD treatment clomipramine. It is generally accepted that the sertraline dosages necessary for the effective treatment of OCD are higher than the usual dosage for depression. The onset of action is also slower for OCD than for depression. The treatment recommendation is to start treatment with a half of maximal recommended dose for at least two months. After that, the dose can be raised to the maximal recommended in the cases of unsatisfactory response.
In four double-blind studies sertraline was shown to be superior to placebo for the treatment of panic disorder. The response rate was independent of the dose. In addition to decreasing the frequency of panic attacks by about 80% (vs. 45% for placebo) and decreasing general anxiety, sertraline resulted in improvement of quality of life on most parameters. The patients rated as "improved" on sertraline reported better quality of life than the ones who "improved" on placebo. The authors of the study argued that the improvement achieved with sertraline is different and of a better quality than the improvement achieved with placebo. Sertraline was equally effective for men and women. While imprecise, comparison of the results of trials of sertraline with separate trials of other anti-panic agents (clomipramine, imipramine, clonazepam, alprazolam, fluvoxamine and paroxetine) indicates approximate equivalence of these medications.
Sertraline has been successfully used for the treatment of social phobia (social anxiety disorder). In a flexible dosing study, it appeared that a higher dose range was needed for adequate response. The response was higher among the patients with later onset, especially adult onset, of the disorder. In addition to psychological components of social phobia, such as fear and avoidance, sertraline also ameliorated some physiological components, such as blushing and palpitations but not sweating and trembling.
Sertraline is effective in alleviating the symptoms of PMDD, a severe form of premenstrual syndrome. Significant improvement was observed in 50–60% of cases treated with sertraline vs. 20–30% of cases on placebo. The improvement began during the first week of treatment, and in addition to mood, irritability, and anxiety, improvement was reflected in better family functioning, social activity and general quality of life. Work functioning and physical symptoms, such as swelling, bloating and breast tenderness, were less responsive to sertraline. Taking sertraline only during the luteal phase, that is, the 12–14 days before menses, was shown to work as well as continuous treatment.
Sertraline when taken daily can be useful for the treatment of some aspects of premature ejaculation. A disadvantage of SSRIs is that they require continuous daily treatment to delay ejaculation significantly. And it is not clear how they affect psychological distress of those with the condition or the persons control over ejaculation timing.
Compared to other SSRIs sertraline tends to be associated with a higher rate of psychiatric side effects and diarrhea. It tends to be more activating (that is, associated with a higher rate of anxiety, agitation, insomnia, etc.) than other SSRIs, aside from fluoxetine.
Over more than six months of sertraline therapy for depression, patients showed an insignificant weight increase of 0.1%. Similarly, a 30-month-long treatment with sertraline for OCD resulted in a mean weight gain of 1.5% (1 kg). Although the difference did not reach statistical significance, the weight gain was lower for fluoxetine (Prozac) (1%) but higher for citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox) and paroxetine (Paxil) (2.5%). Only 4.5% of the sertraline group gained a large amount of weight (defined as more than 7% gain). This result compares favorably with placebo, where, according to the literature, 3–6% of patients gained more than 7% of their initial weight. The large weight gain was observed only among female members of the sertraline group; the significance of this finding is unclear because of the small size of the group.
Over a two-week treatment of healthy volunteers, sertraline slightly improved verbal fluency but did not affect word learning, short-term memory, vigilance, flicker fusion time, choice reaction time, memory span, or psychomotor coordination. In spite of lower subjective rating, that is, feeling that they performed worse, no clinically relevant differences were observed in the objective cognitive performance in a group of people treated for depression with sertraline for 1.5 years as compared to healthy controls. In children and adolescents taking sertraline for six weeks for anxiety disorders, 18 out of 20 measures of memory, attention and alertness stayed unchanged. Divided attention was improved and verbal memory under interference conditions decreased marginally. Because of the large number of measures taken, it is possible that these changes were still due to chance. The unique effect of sertraline on dopaminergicneurotransmission may be related to these effects on cognition and vigilance.
Sexual side effects
Like other SSRIs, sertraline is associated with sexual side effects, including sexual arousal disorder and difficulty achieving orgasm. The observed frequency of sexual side effects depends greatly on whether they are reported by patients spontaneously, as in the manufacturer's trials, or actively solicited by the physicians. There have been several double-blind studies of sexual side effects comparing sertraline with placebo or other antidepressants. While nefazodone (Serzone) and bupropion (Wellbutrin) did not have negative effects on sexual functioning, 67% of men on sertraline experienced ejaculation difficulties vs. 18% before the treatment (or 61% vs. 0% according to another paper). Similarly, in a group of women who initially did not have difficulties achieving orgasm, 41% acquired this problem during treatment with sertraline. A 40% rate of orgasm dysfunction (vs. 9% for placebo) on sertraline was observed in a mixed group in another study.Sexual arousal disorder, defined as "inadequate lubrication and swelling for women and erectile difficulties for men", occurred in 12% of patients on sertraline as compared with 1% of patients on placebo. The mood improvement resulting from the treatment with sertraline sometimes counteracted these side effects, so that sexual desire and overall satisfaction with sex stayed the same as before the sertraline treatment. However, under the action of placebo the desire and satisfaction slightly improved.
Genital anesthesia, loss of or decreased response to sexual stimuli, and ejaculatory anhedonia are also possible. Although usually reversible, for some people these effects are long-term and may persist after drug treatment is discontinued.
The FDA requires all antidepressants, including sertraline, to carry a black box warning stating that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in persons younger than 25. This warning is based on statistical analyses conducted by two independent groups of FDA experts that found a twofold increase of suicidal ideation and behavior in children and adolescents, and a 1.5-fold increase of suicidal behavior in the 18–24 age group.
Suicidal ideation and behavior in clinical trials are rare. For the above analysis, the FDA combined the results of 295 trials of 11 antidepressants for psychiatric indications in order to obtain statistically significant results. Considered separately, sertraline use in adults decreased the odds of suicidal behavior with a marginal statistical significance by 37% or 50% depending on the statistical technique used. The authors of the FDA analysis note that "given the large number of comparisons made in this review, chance is a very plausible explanation for this difference". The more complete data submitted later by the sertraline manufacturer Pfizer indicated increased suicidal behavior. Similarly, the analysis conducted by the UK MHRA found a 50% increase of odds of suicide-related events, not reaching statistical significance, in the patients on sertraline as compared to the ones on placebo.
Acute overdosage is often manifested by emesis, lethargy, ataxia, tachycardia and seizures. Plasma, serum or blood concentrations of sertraline and norsertraline, its major active metabolite, may be measured to confirm a diagnosis of poisoning in hospitalized patients or to aid in the medicolegal investigation of fatalities. As with most other SSRIs its toxicity in overdose is considered relatively low.
Pregnancy and lactation
The studies comparing the levels of sertraline and its principal metabolite, desmethylsertraline, in mother's blood to their concentration in umbilical cord blood at the time of delivery indicated that foetal exposure to sertraline and its metabolite is approximately a third of the maternal exposure. The use of sertraline during the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with increased odds of the following birth defects: omphalocele (six-fold), anal atresia and limb reduction defects (four-fold), and septal defects (two-fold); however these specific defects themselves are rare and therefore the absolute risks are small. Concentration of sertraline and desmethylsertraline in breast milk is highly variable and, on average, is of the same order of magnitude as their concentration in the blood plasma of the mother. As a result, more than half of breast-fed babies receive less than 2 mg/day of sertraline and desmethylsertraline combined, and in most cases these substances are undetectable in their blood. No changes in serotonin uptake by the platelets of breast-fed infants were found, as measured by their blood serotonin levels before and after their mothers began sertraline treatment.
Abrupt interruption of sertraline treatment may result in withdrawal or discontinuation syndrome. This syndrome occurred in 60% of the remitted depressed patients taking sertraline in a blind discontinuation study, as compared to 14% of patients on fluoxetine and 66% of patients on paroxetine. During the 5–8-day period when sertraline was temporarily replaced by placebo, the most frequent symptoms (reported by more than a quarter of patients) were irritability, agitation, dizziness, headache, nervousness, crying, emotional lability, bad dreams and anger. Around a third experienced mood worsening to the level generally associated with a major depressive episode. In a double-blind study of remitted panic disorder patients, abrupt discontinuation of sertraline treatment resulted in insomnia and dizziness (both 16–17% vs. 4% for continuing treatment), although headache, depression and malaise did not increase significantly. In another double-blind study of recovered panic disorder patients, the withdrawal syndrome was completely avoided when sertraline was gradually discontinued over three weeks, while patients stopping paroxetine treatment still suffered from it. There is at least one report of orthostatic hypotension as a result of sertraline withdrawal.
According to Pfizer, sertraline is contraindicated in individuals taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors or the antipsychoticpimozide (Orap). Sertraline concentrate contains alcohol, and is therefore contraindicated with disulfiram (Antabuse). The prescribing information recommends that treatment of the elderly and patients with liver impairment "must be approached with caution." Due to the slower elimination of sertraline in these groups, their exposure to sertraline may be as high as three times the average exposure for the same dose.
Norsertraline, sertraline's chief active metabolite
Sertraline is absorbed slowly when taken orally, achieving its maximal concentration in the plasma 4–6 hours after ingestion. In the blood, it is 98.5% bound to plasma proteins. Its half-life in the body is 13–45 hours and, on average, is about 1.5 times longer in women (32 hours) than in men (22 hours), leading to a 1.5-times-higher exposure in women. According to in vitro studies, sertraline is metabolized by multiple cytochrome 450isoforms: CYP2D6, CYP2C9, CYP2B6, CYP2C19 and CYP3A4. It appeared unlikely that inhibition of any single isoform could cause clinically significant changes in sertraline pharmacokinetics. No differences in sertraline pharmacokinetics were observed between people with high and low activity of CYP2D6; however, poor CYP2C19 metabolizers had a 1.5-times-higher level of sertraline than normal metabolizers.In vitro data also indicate that the inhibition of CYP2B6 should have even greater effect than the inhibition of CYP2C19, while the contribution of CYP2C9 and CYP3A4 to the metabolism of sertraline would be minor. These conclusions have not been verified in human studies. Sertraline can be deaminatedin vitro by monoamine oxidases; however, this metabolic pathway has never been studied in vivo. The major metabolite of sertraline, desmethylsertraline, is about 50 times weaker as a serotonin transporter inhibitor than sertraline and its clinical effect is negligible.
Non-amine metabolites may also contribute to the antidepressant effects of this medication. Sertraline deaminated is O-2098, a compound that has been found to inhibit the dopamine reuptake transporter proteins in spite of its lack of a nitrogen atom.
Its chief active metabolite is norsertraline (N-desmethylsertraline) which is significantly less biologically active than its parent compound.
Skeletal formulae of chlorprothixene and tametraline, from which sertraline was derived
The history of sertraline dates back to the early 1970s, when Pfizer chemist Reinhard Sarges invented a novel series of psychoactive compounds based on the structures of neuroleptics chlorprothixene and thiothixene. Further work on these compounds led to tametraline, a norepinephrine and weaker dopamine reuptake inhibitor. Development of tametraline was soon stopped because of undesired stimulant effects observed in animals. A few years later, in 1977, pharmacologist Kenneth Koe, after comparing the structural features of a variety of reuptake inhibitors, became interested in the tametraline series. He asked another Pfizer chemist, Willard Welch, to synthesize some previously unexplored tametraline derivatives. Welch generated a number of potent norepinephrine and triple reuptake inhibitors, but to the surprise of the scientists, one representative of the generally inactive cis-analogs was a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Welch then prepared stereoisomers of this compound, which were tested in vivo by animal behavioral scientist Albert Weissman. The most potent and selective (+)-isomer was taken into further development and eventually named sertraline. Weissman and Koe recalled that the group did not set up to produce an antidepressant of the SSRI type—in that sense their inquiry was not "very goal driven", and the discovery of the sertraline molecule was serendipitous. According to Welch, they worked outside the mainstream at Pfizer, and even "did not have a formal project team". The group had to overcome initial bureaucratic reluctance to pursue sertraline development, as Pfizer was considering licensing an antidepressant candidate from another company.
Sertraline was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991 based on the recommendation of the Psychopharmacological Drugs Advisory Committee; it had already become available in the United Kingdom the previous year. The FDA committee achieved a consensus that sertraline was safe and effective for the treatment of major depression.
Sertraline entered the Australian market in 1994 and became the most often prescribed antidepressant in 1996 (2004 data). It was measured as among the top ten drugs ranked by cost to the Australian government in 1998 and 2000–01, having cost $45 million and $87 million in subsidies respectively. Sertraline is less popular in the UK (2003 data) and Canada (2006 data)—in both countries it was fifth (among drugs marketed for the treatment of MDD, or antidepressants), based on the number of prescriptions.
Until 2002, sertraline was only approved for use in adults ages 18 and over; that year, it was approved by the FDA for use in treating children aged 6 or older with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In 2003, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency issued a guidance that, apart from fluoxetine (Prozac), SSRIs are not suitable for the treatment of depression in patients under 18. However, sertraline can still be used in the UK for the treatment of OCD in children and adolescents. In 2005, the FDA added a black box warning concerning pediatric suicidal behavior to all antidepressants, including sertraline. In 2007, labeling was again changed to add a warning regarding suicidal behavior in young adults ages 18 to 24.
The U.S. patent for Zoloft expired in 2006, and sertraline is now available in generic form.
The brand-name form of sertraline, Zoloft, was advertised to consumers by Pfizer using the following wording: "While the cause is unknown, depression may be related to an imbalance of natural chemicals between nerve cells in the brain. Prescription Zoloft works to correct this imbalance. You just shouldn't have to feel this way anymore." An essay published in the journal PLoS Medicine criticized these advertisements for their reliance on the "serotonin imbalance" theory of depression, although the monoamine hypothesis of antidepressant action was a leading theory at the time. When asked to comment, the FDA answered that such "reductionist statements" are acceptable to explain the neurochemistry of depression "to the fraction of the public that functions at no higher than a 6th-grade reading level."
An FDA Warning Letter was issued when a Zoloft advertisement omitted information about the risk of suicidal behavior.
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