Background: Second-generation antidepressants dominate the management of major depressive disorder (MDD), but evidence on the comparative benefits and harms of these agents is contradictory.
Purpose: To compare the benefits and harms of second-generation antidepressants for treating MDD in adults.
Data sources: English-language studies from PubMed, Embase, the Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts from 1980 to August 2011 and reference lists of pertinent review articles and gray literature.
Study selection: 2 independent reviewers identified randomized trials of at least 6 weeks' duration to evaluate efficacy and observational studies with at least 1000 participants to assess harm.
Data extraction: Reviewers abstracted data about study design and conduct, participants, and interventions and outcomes and rated study quality. A senior reviewer checked and confirmed extracted data and quality ratings.
Data synthesis: Meta-analyses and mixed-treatment comparisons of response to treatment and weighted mean differences were conducted on specific scales to rate depression. On the basis of 234 studies, no clinically relevant differences in efficacy or effectiveness were detected for the treatment of acute, continuation, and maintenance phases of MDD. No differences in efficacy were seen in patients with accompanying symptoms or in subgroups based on age, sex, ethnicity, or comorbid conditions. Individual drugs differed in onset of action, adverse events, and some measures of health-related quality of life.
Limitations: Most trials were conducted in highly selected populations. Publication bias might affect the estimates of some comparisons. Mixed-treatment comparisons cannot conclusively exclude differences in efficacy. Evidence within subgroups was limited.
Conclusion: Current evidence does not warrant recommending a particular second-generation antidepressant on the basis of differences in efficacy. Differences in onset of action and adverse events may be considered when choosing a medication.
Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.