Recent meta‐analyses on dose–response relationships of SSRIs are largely based on indirect evidence. We analyzed RCTs directly comparing different SSRI doses.
Systematic literature search for RCTs. Two raters independently screened articles and extracted data. Across SSRIs, doses defined as low, medium, and high doses, based on drug manufacturers’ product monographs, were analyzed in pairwise random‐effects meta‐analyses and in a sensitivity network meta‐analysis with regard to differences in antidepressive efficacy (primary outcome). We also analyzed all direct comparisons of different dosages of specific SSRIs. (Prospero CRD42018081031).
Out of 5333 articles screened, we included 33. Comparisons of dosage groups (low, medium, and high) resulted in only small and clinically non‐significant differences for SSRIs as a group, the strongest relating to medium vs low doses (SMD: −0.15 [95%‐CI: −0.28; −0.01) and not sustained in a sensitivity analysis. Among different doses of specific SSRIs, no statistically significant trend emerged for efficacy at higher doses, but 60 mg/day fluoxetine are statistically significantly inferior to 20 mg/day. Paroxetine results are inconclusive: 10 mg/day are inferior to higher doses, but 30 and 40 mg/day are inferior to 20 mg/day. Meaningful effects cannot be ruled out for certain drugs and dosages, often investigated in only one trial. Dropout rates increase with dose—particularly due to side effects. Network meta‐analyses supported our findings.
There is no conclusive level I or level II evidence of a clinically meaningful dose–response relationship of SSRIs as a group or of single substances. High SSRI doses are not recommended as routine treatment.