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Escitalopram is licensed for use at doses up to 20 mg but is used clinically at higher doses. There is limited published data at higher doses and none in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
This open-label, pilot study was designed to investigate the efficacy, safety and tolerability of escitalopram in doses up to 50 mg in MDD. It was conducted in 60 primary care patients with MDD who had not responded to adequate treatment with citalopram. Patients were treated with escalating doses of escitalopram up to 50 mg for up to 32 weeks until they achieved remission (Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale [MADRS] ≤8) or failed to tolerate the dose.
Forty-two patients (70%) completed the study. Twenty-one patients (35%) achieved remission with 8 of the 21 patients (38%) needing the 50 mg dose to achieve remission. Median time to remission was 24 weeks and median dose in remission was 30 mg. No significant safety issues were identified although tolerability appeared to decline above a dose of 40 mg with 26% of patients unable to tolerate 50 mg. Twelve (20%) patients had adverse events leading to discontinuation. The most common adverse events were headache (35%), nausea, diarrhoea and nasopharyngitis (all 25%). Minor mean weight gain was found during the study, which did not appear to be dose-related. Half of the patients who completed the study chose to continue treatment with escitalopram rather than taper down the dose at 32 weeks.
Dose escalation with escitalopram above 20 mg may have a useful role in the management of patients with MDD, although further studies are needed to confirm this finding.