Can physiologic assessment and side effects tease out differences in PTSD trials? A double-blind comparison of citalopram, sertraline, and placebo

Psychopharmacol Bull. 2003 Summer;37(3):135-49.


Effects of double-blind treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with 2 SSRIs and placebo on emotional symptoms and autonomic reactivity were assessed prospectively. PTSD subjects received citalopram (n=25), sertraline (n=23), or placebo (n=10) for 10 weeks, with psychophysiologic assessments performed before and after treatment. Intent-to-treat analysis showed that all treatment groups improved significantly in total symptoms of PTSD (as measured by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale), all 3 PTSD symptom clusters, and sleep time. However, subtle differences in improvements in PTSD symptom clusters, physiologic reactivity, and reported adverse events were identified. Citalopram treated subjects significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressures, while sertraline and placebo treated patients significantly lowered only systolic blood pressure reactivity to individualized trauma scripts. The sertraline group showed significantly more improvement in avoidance/numbing symptoms than both other groups. Considering side effects, subjects on sertraline reported more gastrointestinal problems, with early terminators having more insomnia. Early terminators on citalopram reported more fatigue and appetite changes than other treatment groups, with completers reporting more sexual dysfunction. Results support a class effect of SSRIs in treating PTSD symptoms, but suggest a possible differential effect of drugs on symptom clusters, physiologic parameters, and side effects that may have clinical relevance. Implications of symptom reduction noted in the smaller placebo group are discussed relative to recent concerns about increasing placebo response in clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Citalopram / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Sertraline / therapeutic use*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram
  • Sertraline