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Study finds systemic AD treatment relieves depressive symptoms along with skin symptoms



MONTREAL – Systemic treatment of atopic dermatitis (AD) boosts mood in addition to relieving skin symptoms, according to a prospective, real-world, clinical cohort study presented at the annual meeting of the International Society of Atopic Dermatitis.

“Randomized, controlled, phase 3 studies have shown that systemic treatment of AD reduces depressive symptoms, but whether this holds true in real-world cohorts remains to be shown,” said study investigator Lina Ivert, MD, PhD, of the dermatology and venereology unit in the department of medicine at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm.

The study used data from SwedAD, a newly launched web-based Swedish national registry of patients with AD on systemic treatment between June 2017 and August 2021. Participants were followed at 6 and 12 months for the primary outcome of depressive symptoms using the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale–self-report (MADRS-S). Secondary outcomes included the Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI) score, Patient-Oriented Eczema Measure (POEM), the Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI), and pruritus visual analog scale/numeric rating scale (VAS/NRS).

At baseline, 120 patients (median age, 39 years; 57.5% men) were started on dupilumab (n = 91), methotrexate (26), or cyclosporin (3). Although almost half had no depression at baseline, mild depression was present in 29.2%, with moderate and severe depression in 20% and 4.2%, respectively.

Among 59 patients with 6-month follow-up data (48 on dupilumab, 10 on methotrexate, 1 on cyclosporin), all nine depressive symptoms in MADRS-S improved significantly, with reduced sleep improving the most (from a median of 3 points to a median of 1 point). Similarly, overall MADRS-S scores improved (from a median of 14 points to a median of 5; P < .001), as did EASI scores (from a median of 20.5 to 2), POEM scores (from a median of 22 to 6), DLQI (from a median of 15 to 3), and pruritus scores (from a median of 7.1 to 1.8; all P < .001).

The analysis also found a strong correlation between the MADRS-S score and all of the secondary outcomes (P < .001 for all). All these improvements remained significant among the 36 patients with 12-month follow-up data.

“The median MADRS-S reduction also remained when we excluded eight patients who were on antidepressants during the study period, so these results cannot be explained by psychiatric medication,” noted Dr. Ivert, adding that three patients with severe suicide ideation at baseline improved their MADRS-S suicide item to less than 2 points. “So, this study taught us to look at the suicide item score and not only the total MADRS-S score,” she commented.

Comparing patients treated with dupilumab with those treated with methotrexate, the analysis showed that though baseline median MADRS-S scores did not differ significantly between them, there was a significant 6-month reduction in the dupilumab group but not in the methotrexate group.

Asked to comment on the findings, moderator Marissa Joseph, MD, a pediatric dermatologist at the University of Toronto, said that “the mental health effects of inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis are well known, but whether or not they are well explored in the patient-physician interaction is a whole other scenario.” There are time constraints, she said, adding, “it sometimes takes some deep-diving ... but exploring those types of symptoms is something we need to do more of, and the severity of the disease and reasons for treatment are not just what you can see.”


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