Background : Psychiatric side-effects may require dose reduction or premature discontinuation of interferon therapy in chronic hepatitis C. New strategies are needed in order to prevent the premature termination of interferon therapy.

Aim : To evaluate prospectively the efficacy and tolerability of antidepressant therapy (paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) in patients with chronic hepatitis C treated with interferon-α who have developed interferon-induced major depression.

Methods : A sub-group of 14 individuals from 121 consecutively treated hepatitis C patients developed substance-induced major depression without suicidal ideation during interferon-α treatment. The individuals in this sub-group received paroxetine after the occurrence of depression (20 mg daily until termination of interferon therapy). Diagnostic scores for depression (and anger–hostility) were obtained in a repeated measures design (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and Symptom Checklist 90 Items Revised).

Results : Eleven of the 14 patients (78.6%) with interferon-induced major depression were able to complete interferon-α therapy as scheduled under concomitant paroxetine treatment (three dropouts: insufficient improvement of depression, occurrence of epileptic seizures, paroxetine-induced nausea/dizziness). Within 4 weeks after the start of paroxetine medication, depression scores declined significantly in all patients.

Conclusions : Our data suggest that concomitant therapy with paroxetine is an effective way to treat interferon-induced depression in patients with chronic hepatitis C.