Importance: Depression is prevalent and associated with negative outcomes in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). Antidepressants are used routinely to treat depression, yet no placebo-controlled trials have been published in this population to our knowledge.
Objective: To determine the efficacy and tolerability of venlafaxine hydrochloride extended-release (XR) for major depressive disorder (MDD) or dysthymic disorder in persons with chronic SCI.
Design, setting, and participants: Multisite, randomized (1:1), double-blind, placebo-controlled Project to Improve Symptoms and Mood After SCI (PRISMS) trial. All research staff conducting screening, intervention, and outcome procedures were blinded to randomization status. We screened 2536 patients from outpatient clinics at 6 SCI treatment centers in the United States and randomized 133 participants into the trial. Participants were 18 to 64 years old and at least 1 month after SCI, with MDD or dysthymic disorder. Seventy-four percent of participants were male, and participants were on average 40 years old and 11 years after SCI. Forty-seven percent had cervical injuries, 53.4% had American Spinal Injury Association injury severity A (complete injury) SCI, 24.1% had at least 2 prior MDD episodes, and 99.2% had current MDD. Common comorbidities included chronic pain (93.9%), significant anxiety (57.1%), and history of substance dependence (44.4%).
Interventions: Twelve-week trial of venlafaxine XR vs placebo using a flexible-dose algorithm.
Main outcomes and measures: The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D 17-item version and Maier subscale, which focuses on core depression symptoms and excludes somatic symptoms) over 12 weeks.
Results: Mixed-effects models revealed a significant difference between the venlafaxine XR and placebo groups in improvement on the Maier subscale from baseline to 12 weeks (treatment effect, 1.6; 95% CI, 0.3-2.9; P = .02) but not on the HAM-D 17-item version (treatment effect, 1.0; 95% CI, -1.4 to 3.4; P = .42). Participants receiving venlafaxine XR reported significantly less SCI-related disability on the Sheehan Disability Scale at 12 weeks compared with placebo (treatment effect, 4.7; 95% CI, 1.5-7.8; P = .005). Blurred vision was the only significantly more common new or worsening adverse effect in the venlafaxine XR group compared with the placebo group over 12 weeks.
Conclusions and relevance: Venlafaxine XR was well tolerated by most patients and an effective antidepressant for decreasing core symptoms of depression and improving SCI-related disability. Further research is needed to determine the optimal treatment and measurement approaches for depression in chronic SCI.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00592384.