Initial severity and antidepressant efficacy for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder: An individual patient data meta-analysis

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Background: It has been suggested that antidepressant benefits are smaller for mild than severe depression. Because antidepressants are also used for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we examined the influence of severity for these disorders.

Methods: We used individual patient data of eight trials (3,430 participants) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD); four trials (1,195 participants) for social anxiety disorder (SAD); four trials (1,132 participants) for OCD; three trials (1,071 participants) for PTSD; and 10 trials (2,151 participants) for panic disorder (PD). Mixed-effects models were used to investigate an interaction between severity and treatment group.

Results: For GAD and PD, severity moderated antidepressant efficacy. The antidepressant-placebo difference was 1.4 (95% CI: 0.4-2.5; SMD: 0.21) Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A) points for participants with mild GAD (baseline HAM-A=10), increasing to 4.0 (3.4-4.6; SMD: 0.45) or greater for severely ill participants (HAM-A >= 30). For PD, the difference was 0.4 (0.3-0.6) panic attacks/2weeks for participants with 10 panic attacks/2weeks at baseline, increasing to 4.7 (3.0-6.4) for participants with 40. For SAD, OCD, and PTSD, no interaction was found. Across severity levels, the differences were 16.1 (12.9-19.3; SMD: 0.59) Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale points, 3.4 (2.5-4.4, SMD: 0.39) Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale points, and 10.3 (6.9-13.6; SMD: 0.41) Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale points.

Conclusions: Antidepressants are equally effective across severity levels for SAD, OCD, and PTSD. For GAD and PD, however, benefits are small at low severity, and the benefit-risk ratio may be unfavorable for these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-522
Number of pages8
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number6
Early online date16-Apr-2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2018


  • antidepressive agents
  • anxiety disorders
  • meta-analysis
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • panic disorder
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • DRUG

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