VIENNA, Sept. 17 -- Researchers say a drug used to prevent vomiting in cancer chemotherapy patients can prevent anxiety, an often disabling mental illness afflicting millions of people in the United States. At the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Vienna, Louisiana State University researchers admit they aren't sure why ondansetron ('ON-dan-suh-tron') works as well as Valium in preventing anxiety, but they say its minimal side effects make the anti- nausea drug valuable in treating the disorder. Dr. Arthur Freeman III, chairman of the department of psychiatry at LSU-Shreveport, says, 'We don't know the connection between nausea and anxiety.... There may be some gastrointestinal trigger.'
The study involved 53 patients with severe impairment due to their anxiety. After eight weeks, patients receiving two milligrams of ondansetron (Zofran, Glaxo Wellcome) a day showed a steady decline in anxiety symptoms, and performed as well or better than than Valium. Freeman tells United Press International that treating anxiety, which affects mostly women, is difficult because standard treatments may be addicting or may interfere with sexual functions. The main side effect caused by ondansetron is constipation, and Freeman said that actually was considered positive by some of the anxiety patients. Ondansetron was developed to prevent nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. When introduced in the early 1990s, it was hailed as a life saver because it allowed patients to receive intensive chemotherapy without the debilitating vomiting that was common in these regimens. Ondansetron costs several hundred dollars a dose when used to combat chemotherapy-induced vomiting. Freeman used a fraction of that dose, estimating low dose administration of ondansetron for anxiety might cost about $50 a month. ---NEWLN:Copyright 1997 by United Press InternationalNEWLN:All rights reservedNEWLN:---