Dr. Alan Ingilis, Jan 30, 2009
There's an old saying in the newspaper business that when news is slow, the answer is simple – go create some. I see journalists do that all the time with medical studies. Reporters take some small, inconclusive study and treat it like a Nobel Prize-worthy breakthrough.
Case in point, the press latched on to a recent study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which looked at whether the popular antidepressant Lexapro should be used as an anti-anxiety treatment for older adults.
The drug is already used quite a bit for elderly people who have generalized anxiety disorder, complaining of fatigue, muscle aches and insomnia. The study wanted to quantify whether it was really effective.
For 12 weeks, the researchers tracked 177 people aged 60 or older with generalized anxiety disorder. One group got a dummy pill and the other group received Lexapro. The scientists calculated that 69 percent of the real pill-takers reported improvements, while 51 percent of the placebo-takers did. For such a small sample, that's not much of an improvement… but no
one wants to admit that.
Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and these drugs have been linked to bone loss – that should be a big disqualifier for elderly patients. Plus, antidepressants can lead to crippling withdrawal symptoms – many patients are currently suing the makers of these drugs in class-action lawsuits.
So, if you're telling me that I can still have a 51 percent chance of feeling better, without having to deal with the "major baggage" that comes with Lexapro… well, that's the real news right there. It might not make page 1 of The New York Times, but it's still true.