Comparison of paroxetine and nortriptyline in depressed patients with ischemic heart disease

JAMA. 1998 Jan 28;279(4):287-91. doi: 10.1001/jama.279.4.287.


Context: Depression and ischemic heart disease often are comorbid conditions and, in patients who have had a myocardial infarction, the presence of depression is associated with increased mortality. Patients with heart disease need a safe and effective treatment for depression.

Objective: To compare the efficacy, cardiovascular effects, and safety of a specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor, paroxetine, with a tricyclic antidepressant, nortriptyline hydrochloride, in depressed patients with ischemic heart disease.

Design: Two-week placebo lead-in followed by a double-blind randomized 6-week medication trial.

Setting: Research clinics in 4 university centers.

Patients: Eighty-one outpatients meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for major depressive disorder and with documented ischemic heart disease.

Interventions: Treatment with either paroxetine, 20 to 30 mg/d, or nortriptyline targeted to a therapeutic plasma level, 190 to 570 nmol/L (50-150 ng/mL), for 6 weeks.

Main outcome measures: For effectiveness of treatment, a decline in the score of the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression by 50% and final score of 8 or less; for cardiovascular safety, heart rate and rhythm, supine and standing systolic and diastolic blood pressures, electrocardiogram conduction intervals, indexes of heart rate variability, and rate of adverse events.

Results: By intent-to-treat analysis, 25 (61%) of 41 patients improved during treatment with paroxetine and 22 (55%) of 40 improved with nortriptyline. Neither drug significantly affected blood pressure or conduction intervals. Paroxetine had no sustained effects on heart rate or rhythm or indexes of heart rate variability, whereas patients treated with nortriptyline had a sustained 11% increase in heart rate from a mean of 75 to 83 beats per minute (P<.001) and a reduction in heart rate variability, as measured by the SD of all normal R-R intervals over a 24-hour period, from 112 to 96 (P<.01). Adverse cardiac events occurred in 1 (2%) of 41 patients treated with paroxetine and 7 (18%) of 40 patients treated with nortriptyline (P<.03).

Conclusions: Paroxetine and nortriptyline are effective treatments for depressed patients with ischemic heart disease. Nortriptyline treatment was associated with a significantly higher rate of serious adverse cardiac events compared with paroxetine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / therapeutic use*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / adverse effects
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use*
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Ischemia / complications*
  • Nortriptyline / administration & dosage
  • Nortriptyline / adverse effects
  • Nortriptyline / therapeutic use*
  • Paroxetine / administration & dosage
  • Paroxetine / adverse effects
  • Paroxetine / therapeutic use*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Paroxetine
  • Nortriptyline