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Dysthymia: clinical picture, extent of overlap with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), neuropharmacological considerations, & new therapeutic vistas

  [ 116 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • January 25, 1999

Dysthymia, as defined in the American Psychiatric Association and International Classification of Mental Disorders, refers to a prevalent form of subthreshold depressive pathology with gloominess, anhedonia, low drive and energy, low self-esteem and pessimistic outlook. Although comorbidity with panic, social phobic, and alcohol use disorders has been described, the most significant association is with major depressive episodes. Family history is loaded with affective, including bipolar, disorders. The latter finding explains why dysthymia, especially when onset is in childhood, can lead to hypomanic switches, both spontaneously and upon pharmacologic challenge in as many as 30%. Indeed, antidepressants from different classes -tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (RIMAs), selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and, more recently, amisulpride, and spanning noradrenergic, serotonergic as well as dopaminergic mechanisms of action - have been shown to be effective against dysthymia in an average of 65% of cases. This is a promising development because social and characterologic disturbances so pervasive in dysthymia often, though not always, recede with continued pharmacotherapy beyond acute treatment. Despite symptomatic overlap of dysthymia with chronic fatigue syndrome - especially with respect to the cluster of symptoms consisting of low drive, lethargy, lassitude and poor concentration - neither the psychopathologic status, nor the pharmacologic response profile of the latter syndrome is presently understood. Chronic fatigue today is where dysthymia was two decades ago. We submit that the basic science - clinical paradigm that has proven so successful in dysthymia could, before too long, crack down the conundrum of chronic fatigue as well. At a more practical level, we raise the possibility that a subgroup within the chronic fatigue group represents a variant of dysthymia.

Brunello N, Akiskal H, Boyer P, Gessa GL, Howland RH, Langer SZ, Mendlewicz J

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