Objectives: Many overdosed patients are admitted to an ICU. Antidepressants are frequently used. We examined clinical end-points of toxicity recorded during admission to our ICU of all antidepressants used in overdose. Design: Single centre; retrospective analysis, 5 consecutive years (1994 – 1998). Setting: Intensive and Respiratory Care Unit, Groningen University Hospital. Participants: 86 patients admitted to the ICU because of antidepressant self-poisoning — database of 258 consecutively admitted patients with (auto-) intoxication. Results: Significantly more patients were intoxicated with TCAs (65) compared with SSRIs (20; p < 0.05), despite the fact that the number of prescriptions of antidepressants in the community was greater for SSRIs than for TCAs. Patients intoxicated with TCAs needed significantly more often tracheal intubation (27/65 vs 7/20; p < 0.05), and these individuals had also significantly more often tachycardia (14 vs. 3) and QRS-complex widening (19 vs. 1), compared to those with non-TCA antidepressant intoxication (p < 0.05). Conclusions: TCA self-poisoning has remained the predominant cause of morbidity among patients with auto-intoxication admitted to our ICU in the previous years. The data from this ICU-population confirm previous evidence that SSRIs are safer in overdose than TCAs. This finding was not explained by more prescriptions in the community of TCAs compared with SSRIs. Physicians should be more reluctant in prescribing TCAs to depressed patients in whom the risk of self-poisoning is difficult to assess.
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