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Stanford study shows now-familiar medications at core of better outlook for depressed patients

STANFORD, Calif. - Enough Americans suffer from depression to fill Yankee Stadium 330 times over, and while depression rates continue to rise, people with the illness have reason to be hopeful. A new study shows that doctors are treating the disease more than ever before - thanks in part to the newest category of antidepressant medication.

"Our study confirms the belief that the diagnosis and treatment of depression have been impacted by the advent of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)," said Randall Stafford, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and lead author of the latest report. "Findings show that the quality of care received by depressed patients has improved since the introduction of this class of medications in 1988." The study appeared in the April 29 issue of the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

SSRIs are one of several categories of antidepressants. Although medications in each category are effective in treating the disease, SSRIs (including well-known brands such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft) have fewer side effects than the others. Stafford noted that patients who take other types also face a greater risk of overdose, along with more side effects such as weight gain, stomach irritation and dry mouth.

The safety profile and relatively limited side effects of SSRIs make them attractive to both physicians and patients, Stafford said, and as a result they are the most prescribed category of antidepressant in the country. Stafford's team conducted the study to examine the drugs' popularity among physicians and to more closely examine their impact on treatment of depressive illness.

"Past studies have focused on broader changes in depression treatment, but we wanted to go beyond this and look at the relationship between SSRIs and other medications," he said. "There was a perception that treatment had changed since the advent of SSR
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