This review provides a guide to the primary care physician for diagnosing and managing depression. To identify relevant articles, a PubMed search (ending date parameter, October 15, 2009) was conducted using the keywords depression, antidepressants, side effects, adverse effects, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and sleep disturbance, and the reference lists of relevant articles were hand searched. This review explores the challenges in diagnosing depression that will and will not respond to antidepressants (ADs) and describes the value of 2-question screening instruments followed by in-depth questioning for positive screening results. It underscores the implications of veiled somatic presentations in which underlying depression is missed, leading to fruitless and expensive medical work-ups. Following this survey of the difficulties in diagnosing depression, the 4 options generalists have for treating a patient with depression are discussed: watchful waiting, antidepressant therapy, psychotherapy, and psychiatric referral. This review proposes that physicians, once they decide to prescribe, use AD side effects to advantage by selecting medications to minimize negative and maximize positive possibilities, thereby improving adherence. It focuses on the 3 most troubling adverse effects - sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain. It provides AD-prescribing principles to assist primary care physicians in successfully managing depression and appropriately referring patients to a psychiatrist. Antidepressant therapy is not a panacea for treating patients with depression. An approach blending enlightened observation, medications, and psychotherapy often helps depressed patients recover to their former baselines.
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