Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 293–301 | Cite as

Rational treatment choices for non-major depressions in primary care

An evidence-based review
  • Ronald T. Ackermann
  • John W. WilliamsJr.Email author


OBJECTIVE: This review synthesizes available evidence for managing clinically significant dysphoric symptoms encountered in primary care, when formal criteria for major depression or dysthymia are not met. Discussion is focused on premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and minor depression because of their significant prevalence in the primary care setting and the lack of clear practice guidelines for addressing each illness.

DESIGN: English language literature from prior systematic reviews was supplemented by searching medline, embase, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Registry, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality National Guideline Clearinghouse, and bibliographies of selected papers. Studies addressing the natural history or treatment of minor depression or PMDD were selected for review. Data were abstracted by 1 of 2 independent reviewers and studies were synthesized qualitatively.

RESULTS: Five individual studies that compared anti-depressant or psychological treatments to placebo in patients with minor depression suggest short-term improvements in depressive symptoms with paroxetine, problem-solving therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, but not with amitryptiline. Modest benefits on mental health function were reported with paroxetine and with problem-solving therapy, but only in patients with severe functional impairment at baseline. Twenty-four controlled trials were identified that compared antidepressant or psychological treatments to placebo in patients with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Pooled results from a recent systematic review of 15 randomized controlled trials and one additional trial abstract provide strong evidence for a significantly greater improvement in physical and psychological symptoms with serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor medications when compared with placebo. Individual trials also suggest significantly greater improvements in symptom scores with venlafaxine, but not with tricyclic antidepressants.

CONCLUSIONS: The limited evidence base for minor depression provides only mixed support for a small to moderate benefit for few antidepressant medications and psychological treatments tested. For the treatment of severe psychological or physical symptoms causing functional impairment in patients with PMDD, sertraline and fluoxetine are clearly beneficial in carefully selected patients.

Key words

depression depressive disorder premenstrual syndrome antidepressive agents psychotherapy complementary therapies 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars ProgramUniversity of Washington, and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care SystemSeattle
  2. 2.the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care, HSR&D, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterDuke University Medical CenterDurham

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