Could The Key To The Right Depression Medication Be Genetic Testing?

If you've ever gone through the process of finding an antidepressant, you might be familiar with the trial-and-error involved. Finding the right medication can be frustrating, time-consuming, and can bring on a whole slew of unwanted side effects. However, researchers are now saying that genetic testing might be the key to getting the most effective prescription.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 18% of U.S. adults experienced symptoms of depression. Women are more likely than men to experience depression, and rates were highest among those between the ages of 18 and 29. From 2015-2018, over 13% of U.S. adults had taken antidepressant medication within the past 30 days (via CDC).

Like all medications, these aren't necessarily without side effects. In fact, half of all people who take them experience side effects in the first few weeks of treatment, usually fading as treatment progresses (via National Library of Medicine). Side effects can include dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, restlessness, sexual problems, trembling, nausea, and diarrhea. In some cases, side effects can be severe, with things like dizziness leading to falls and bone fractures. Antidepressants may also increase the risk of suicide in teens. While side effects often subside, they sometimes don't go away until the medication is stopped (via Cleveland Clinic).

How genetic testing might be helpful

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that genetic testing could be a way to help reduce the likelihood of gene-drug interactions in patients (via Healthline). The study looked at 1,944 patients who received care for major depressive disorder — half received standard care and half received pharmacogenomic testing. Researchers found that those doctors who had access to testing results were more likely to prescribe drugs with no known interactions.

Genetic testing shows how a person metabolizes medication, indicating how rapidly or slowly it will be processed and indicating how high or low the levels of the drug in a person's system are. It can also be used for treating other medical conditions, like cancer and heart disease.

While the study points to the significance of pharmacogenetic testing, some experts think that it's only necessary when managing treatment-resistant depression and complex cases. Dr. Alex Dimitriu, an expert in psychiatry and sleep medicine, told Healthline that it's more important to watch the symptoms and response in patients when trying new medications. He sees his patients often, starts them on a low dose, increases the dose very slowly, and monitors them closely. This allows him to gauge how well the medication is working for them.