Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why This Shrink Doesn't Prescribe MAOI's

Graham wrote in a question:

OK, so since it was a pretty generic post, I'm going to ask a question of you three that's pretty far off topic. Why do you think MAO inhibitors are so infrequently used in psychiatric practice today? Besides dietary/drug interactions, their safety profile is good. There are masses of studies showing efficacy. Why switch patients from one SSRI/TCA to another to another instead of trying a MAO inhibitor. Do you think MAOI's have a place as second line agents in certain circumstances?

What a great question, I've been thinking about this one for a bit and this is what I've come to. I don't use Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI's) to treat depression or anxiety, though from time to time, I think about it. Why not? It's a really good question, they are really good medications, sometimes helpful when other meds don't work, and lore has it that they are helpful with "rejection sensitivity" in patients with borderline personality disorder.

So Why Don't I use them?

1) They are dangerous in combination with a bunch of foods-- aged cheeses, certain red wines, fava beans, and I'd have to look up the rest of the list. It includes medications, even some over-the-counter medicines. Accidental or purposeful ingestion of these substances in combo with MAOI's can lead to hypertensive crises-- think stroke and death. This makes me a little wary.

2) Pure gut bad association-- at the hospital where I went to medical school, the young daughter of a New York Times editor died-- the combination of MAOI's and prescribed Demerol were thought to play a role in her death.

3) I don't like to give patients medicines that they can easily fatally overdose on.

4) My own naivete. By the time I started residency training in psychiatry, SSRIs were hot. Many patients were on TCA's (tricyclic antidepressants, and you can OD on these, too). I saw two patients in my residency on MAOIs. I've worked in 3 different clinics, each with an active caseload of about 1,000 patients. There was one patient in the first clinic I worked in (1992) on an MAOI. I've never seen the chart of any other patient treated at any of these clinics with an MAOI. Okay, I haven't seen any patient's chart, but the point here is that I'm just not familiar with them, so they aren't my first/second/third/fourth choices for treatment. Should they be?

5) Once you've used an SSRI, you have to wait weeks to use an MAOI, not always an easy prospect for a depressed patient.

Thanks Graham, I'm running my next sidebar poll in your honor!