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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evidence of prescription of antidepressants for non-psychiatric conditions in primary care: an analysis of guidelines and systematic reviews

Alain Mercier1*, Isabelle Auger-Aubin2, Jean-Pierre Lebeau3, Matthieu Schuers1, Pascal Boulet1, Jean-Loup Hermil1, Paul Van Royen4 and Lieve Peremans45

Author affiliations

1 Department of General Practice, Rouen University and CIC Inserm 0204, University of Rouen, Rouen, France

2 Department of General Practice, Denis Diderot Paris 7 University, Paris, France

3 Department of General Practice, Tours University, Tours, France

4 Department of Primary and Interdisciplinary Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

5 Department of Public Health, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

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Citation and License

BMC Family Practice 2013, 14:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-14-55

Published: 4 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Antidepressants (ADs) are commonly prescribed in primary care and are mostly indicated for depression. According to the literature, they are now more frequently prescribed for health conditions other than psychiatric ones. Due to their many indications in a wide range of medical fields, assessing the appropriateness of AD prescription seems to be a challenge for GPs. The aim of this study was to review evidence from guidelines for antidepressant prescription for non-psychiatric conditions in Primary Care (PC) settings.

Methods

Data were retrieved from French, English and US guideline databases. Guidelines or reviews were eligible if keywords regarding 44 non-psychiatric conditions related to GPs’ prescription of ADs were encountered. After excluding psychiatric and non-primary care conditions, the guidelines were checked for keywords related to AD use. The latest updated version of the guidelines was kept. Recent data was searched in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and in PubMed for updated reviews and randomized control trials (RCTs).

Results

Seventy-eight documents were retrieved and were used to assess the level of evidence of a potential benefit to prescribing an AD. For 15 conditions, there was a consensus that prescribing an AD was beneficial. For 5 others, ADs were seen as potentially beneficial. No proof of benefit was found for 15 conditions and proof of no benefit was found for the last 9. There were higher levels of evidence for pain conditions, (neuropathic pain, diabetic painful neuropathy, central neuropathic pain, migraine, tension-type headaches, and fibromyalgia) incontinence and irritable bowel syndrome. There were difficulties in summarizing the data, due to a lack of information on the level of evidence, and due to variations in efficacy between and among the various classes of ADs.

Conclusions

Prescription of ADs was found to be beneficial for many non-psychiatric health conditions regularly encountered in PC settings. On the whole, the guidelines were heterogeneous, seemingly due to a lack of trials assessing the role of ADs in treatment strategies.

Keywords:
Antidepressants; Literature review; Therapeutic use; Family practice