The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Wellbutrin XL, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is intended to treat the approximate 6% of US men and women suffering from major seasonal depression. The drug was previously approved to treat major depressive disorder (MDD).

Depressive episodes linked to SAD may last up to six months and normally happen during the darker months of the year, in fall and winter, when there’s less sunlight. People suffering from SAD may experience depression at other times of the year, but to be diagnosed with SAD, the number of seasonal episodes must substantially outnumber the non-season episodes. This is what differentiates SAD from standard depressive disorders.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include depressed mood, weight/appetite changes, insomnia or hypersomnia, agitation or psychomotor difficulties, loss of interest, fatigue, feelings or guilt or worthlessness, impaired concentration, and suicidal thoughts and/or behavior.

Individuals suffering from major depression also suffer the presence of significant distress or social, occupational or other impairments in functioning. SAD episodes are defined by the same sorts of problems.

Dr. Steven Galson, director for the FDA’s Centers for Drug Evaluation and Research, says, “Seasonal affective disorder can significantly impair the quality of life of patients with this condition.”

Wellbutrin’s efficacy was proved through three double-blind placebo-controlled studies. A combined analysis of the trials showed the drug reduces the chance of developing a seasonal major depressive episode by 44 percent.

The drug contains a black box warning regarding the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior in children treated with antidepressants. Other side effects include anxiety, agitation and insomnia.

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