Anti-Inflammatory IBD Drug Can Treat Depression

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FIRST PERSON | Results of a Georgia study suggest that an anti-inflammatory drug used for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) also effectively treats depression. Based on my experience with the medication, patients offered the opportunity to take infliximab (brand name: Remicade) will want to carefully weigh its pros and cons before deciding whether to use it.

A research team from Atlanta's Emory University School of Medicine sought to determine whether prolonged inflammation in the body could damage the brain and cause depression, according to Medical News Today. Earlier studies suggested that depressed patients with high levels of inflammation benefited less from standard treatments like psychotherapy and anti-depressant medications than other depressed patients did. The Emory researchers wanted to know whether halting inflammation could help many patients with hard-to-treat depression or only those with high inflammation levels.

Infliximab is a recent medication used to treat the inflammatory symptoms of IBD and rheumatoid arthritis. It is a so-called biologic drug. It acts as a blocker of tumor necrosis factor, which is found in both IBD patients and in some patients with depression. Before I started on the drug, my gastroenterologist likened it to a heat-seeking missile.

IBD is a classification for disorders that produce recurring inflammation in the digestive tract. Its two main forms are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. While the cause of these disorders remains elusive, most experts agree that it is based on an abnormal response of the immune system to substances like food and bacteria that are normally benign, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The body attacks what it sees as foreign invaders, creating inflammation.

All the subjects in the Emory study suffered from severe depression and had not responded positively to standard treatments. Initial evaluations showed little difference in the response of those on the placebo vs. infliximab. Eventually, however, researchers noted that subjects on the anti-inflammatory and who had high inflammation levels benefited significantly more than those getting the placebo.

I spent two years on Remicade via IV infusion due to stubborn Crohn's disease. I stopped the drug because of several side effects. Among them was an almost-continual respiratory infection, since the medication is an immunosuppressant. cites other major potential side effects such as lymphoma and allergic reactions. I had to have a test for tuberculosis before starting infliximab. The fact that I had developed histoplasmosis, a fungal infection, as a child was a concern. I had to avoid crowds and "germy" places.

The Georgia trial represented the first successful use of a biologic to treat depression. The findings suggest that the results of a blood test could show the level of inflammation a patient is experiencing and predict whether this fairly new inflammatory drug could treat the symptoms of depression. However, patients considering this medication will want to thoroughly evaluate both its benefits and risks.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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