Sept. 20 (UPI) -- New research suggests that an antidepressant may alleviate anxiety better than it reduces symptoms of depression.
Sertraline, one of the most common antidepressants, was found to lower anxiety in people with depression, according to a study published Thursday in The Lancet.
"We hope that we have cast new light on how antidepressants work, as they may be primarily affecting anxiety symptoms such as nervousness, worry and tension, and taking longer to affect depressive symptoms," Gemma Lewis, a researcher at University College London and study lead author, said in a news release.
The study included 653 people in England between ages 18 and 74 who underwent surgery from a general practitioner. About 54 percent of the patients were diagnosed as depressed, while 46 percent suffered anxiety. In addition, 15 percent were diagnosed for both conditions categories and another 15 percent were not diagnosed but still experienced symptoms.
The patients' reported depressive symptoms that ranged from mild to moderate over the previous two years.
About half of the patients were prescribed daily 50 milligram capsules of sertraline for one week, then two daily capsules for up to 11 weeks. The other group was prescribed placebos on the same schedule.
The researchers found sertraline had no effect on depressive symptoms through six weeks, and only a mild impact through 12 weeks.
The drug had a much stronger effect, however, on the overall mental state of patients. On average, the sertraline reduced anxiety and improved mental health in the patients through six and 12 weeks.
"Antidepressants can be beneficial to people with depression or anxiety but any benefit has to be set against any side effects or the possibility of withdrawal symptoms," Gemma said.