Focus On Venlafaxine

by Dr Ivan Goldberg

1. What is venlafaxine?
2. How does venlafaxine differ from other antidepressants?
3. What kinds of depression can be treated with venlafaxine?
4. What are the side-effects of venlafaxine?
5. Which side effects force people to stop taking venlafaxine?
6. Are there any special hazards for people with bipolar disorder?
7. Does venlafaxine interact with other medications?
8. Does venlafaxine interact with alcohol?
9. Is venlafaxine safe for a woman who is pregnant, about to become pregnant, or nursing an infant?
10. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for children and adolescents?
11. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for the elderly?
12. How is treatment with venlafaxine initiated?
13. What is the usual final dose of venlafaxine? 14. How long does it take venlafaxine to relieve depression?
15. Are there withdrawal effects if venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued?
16. Is venlafaxine toxic if an overdose is taken?
17. What precautions are necessary when switching between venlafaxine and a MAO inhibitor?
18. Does venlafaxine often work when a person has not responded to other anti- depressants?
19. Additions and corrections.

 

Magnifying Glass1. What is venlafaxine?

Venlafaxine (venlafaxine) is a new antidepressant with a novel chemical structure. Venlafaxine has a structure that does not resemble those of any currently used antidepressants. venlafaxine is not a tricyclic anti- depressant or an MAO inhibitor.

 

 

2. How does venlafaxine differ from other antidepressants?

Venlafaxine seems to have the relative freedom from side-effects associated with the SSRIs [fluoxetine , sertraline , paroxetine, fluvoxamine ] and the impact on both the serotonin and norepinephrine associated with the tricyclic antidepres- sants (amitriptyline , imipramine etc.). It is hypothesized that the action of the venlafaxine molecule upon both serotonin and norepinephrine will cause venlafaxine to be a successful antidepressant for some people who have not responded to treatment with SSRIs.

As venlafaxine and its active metabolite have relatively short half-lives; 4 hours and 11 hours respectively, venlafaxine should be administered in divided does, two or three times a day.

3. What kinds of depression can be treated with venlafaxine?

While the pre-marketing studies were restricted to patients with a DSM-III-R diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (with or without melancholia), it is to be expected that venlafaxine will be prescribed for patients with Dysthymia, Major Depression, and Bipolar Disorder.

While venlafaxine was only studied for periods of administration of up to 6-weeks, it is to expected that patients with long-standing depressions will take the drug for longer periods of time.

4. What are the side-effects of venlafaxine?

The most common side-effects and the percentage of people reporting them during clinical trials are:

 

Nausea

Headache

Sleepiness

Dry mouth

Dizziness

Insomnia

Constipation

Nervousness

Raised blood pressure *

Fatigue

Sweating

Decreased appetite

Male sexual dysfunction

Female sexual dysfunction

37%

25%

23%

22%

19%

18%

15%

13%

13% *

12%

12%

11%

12%

2%

 

* While the manufacturer says that hypertension only occurs in patients receiving over 300 mg/day, there been reports of moderately severe hypertension in patients taking smaller doses.

5. Which side effects force people to stop taking venlafaxine?

In the premarketing studies 19% (537 out of the 2897) of depressed patients taking venlafaxine discontinued the medication because of side- effects. The side effects and the percentages of total patients who dropped out for each are:

 

Nausea

Sleepiness

Insomnia

Dizziness

Male sexual dysfunction

Headache

Nervousness

Anxiety

Dry mouth

Fatigue

Sweating

6%

3%

3%

3%

3% *

2%

2%

2%

2%

2%

2%

* % of men

 

6. Are there any special hazards for people with bipolar disorder?

As with other antidepressants, people with bipolar disorder who are not being treated with a mood regulator such as lithium, valproate, or carbamazepine , may be pushed into a manic episode when treated with venlafaxine.

7. Does venlafaxine interact with other medications?

8. Does venlafaxine interact with alcohol?

Although venlafaxine has not been found to increase the impairment of cognitive or motor skills caused by alcohol, the manufacturer warns against drinking while taking venlafaxine.

9. Is venlafaxine safe for a woman who is pregnant, about to become pregnant, or nursing an infant?

There is no data to establish the safety of venlafaxine for the fetus or nursing infant.

10. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for children and adolescents?

Although here have been no published studies on the use of venlafaxine for the treatment of children and adolescents with depression, it is expected that the drug will be prescribed for depressed children and adolescents.

11. Is venlafaxine a satisfactory antidepressant for the elderly?

No special problems were encountered when venlafaxine was prescribed for elderly people with depression.

12. How is treatment with venlafaxine started?

I usually start adults on 25 mg of venlafaxine every 12-hours. Every five days, I usually add 25 mg to each dose until the patient either responds or reaches reaches 150/day. If there is no response within 2-weeks of reaching 150 mg/day the dose is again increased in steps of 25 mg/dose until a total daily dose of 300 mg/day is achieved. If this dose is not effective, and the patient is tolerating the venlafaxine without problems, I then increase the dose to between 500 and 600 mg/day.

When venlafaxine is given to elderly patients the starting doses are the same as for other adults. As older people may be more sensitive to increases in dose they should be made slowly.

13. What is the usual final dose of venlafaxine?

While doses up to 375 mg per day are approved by the FDA, some severely depressed patients have been treated with higher doses. Most depressed people respond to doses under 300 mg per day.

14. How rapidly may a person with depression feel some relief from taking venlafaxine?

While most people taking venlafaxine become aware of some lessening of depression within two to four weeks, there are some who experience relief within the first week and others who only experience relief after a couple of months of therapy.

15. Are there withdrawal effects if venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued?

Because of the very short half-life, venlafaxine should be discontinued gradually over at least 2-weeks. If venlafaxine is suddenly discontinued, a withdrawal syndrome involving fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache, insomnia, and nervousness, may develop.

16. Is venlafaxine toxic if an overdose is taken?

Fourteen overdoses of venlafaxine have been reported. In some cases venlafaxine was taken along with alcohol and/or other medications. All individuals who took an overdose recovered without sequelae.

17. What precautions are necessary when switching between venlafaxine and a MAO inhibitor?

When switching from an MAO inhibitor to venlafaxine, there should be a 14-day interval between the discontinuation of the MAOI and the initiation of venlafaxine therapy. When switching from venlafaxine to an MAOI a 7-day interval is adequate, because of venlafaxine's short half-life.

18. Does venlafaxine often work when a person has not responded to other anti- depressants?

In patients who have not responded to three antidepressants from at least two of the major classes of antidepressants, venlafaxine was found to effective in nearly one-half of the people with depression who took it.

19. Additions and corrections to: Dr Ivan Goldberg

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