Duloxetine is a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor widely used as an antidepressant and for neuropathic pain. Duloxetine therapy can be associated with transient asymptomatic elevations in serum aminotransferase levels and has been linked to rare instances of clinically apparent acute liver injury.
Duloxetine is a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) that is used as an antidepressant and for neuropathic pain. By blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in CNS synaptic clefts, the brain levels of these neurotransmitters are increased, which is associated with an antidepressant effect. Duloxetine was approved for use in the United States in 2004 and is available in delayed release capsules of 20, 30 and 60 mg in multiple generic forms and under the brand name Cymbalta. Indications for duloxetine therapy include major depression, generalized anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. The recommended dosage in adults is 40 to 60 mg daily, which can be raised to 120 mg daily based upon tolerance and clinical effects. Common side effects are drowsiness, dyspepsia, nausea, headache, increased sweating, increased appetite, weight gain, urinary retention and sexual dysfunction. Rare, but potentially severe adverse events include suicidal thoughts and behaviors, mania, postural hypotension, syncope and falls, serotonin syndrome, seizures, severe skin rash, hypersensitivity reactions, hyponatremia, and glaucoma.
Liver test abnormalities with ALT elevations above 3 times the upper limit of normal have been reported to occur in ~1% of patients on duloxetine, but elevations were usually self-limited and did not require dose modification or discontinuation. Rare instances of acute, clinically apparent episodes of liver injury with marked liver enzyme elevations with or without jaundice have been reported in patients on duloxetine. The onset of injury is usually within 1 to 6 months and the pattern of serum enzyme elevations is usually hepatocellular, but mixed and cholestatic forms have also been described. Fatal cases have been described but their relatedness to duloxetine has been quesitoned. Autoimmune (autoantibodies) and immunoallergic features (rash, fever, eosinophilia) are uncommon.
Likelihood score: B (likely cause of clinically apparent liver injury).
Mechanism of Injury
The mechanism by which duloxetine causes liver injury is not known, but is likely due to a metabolic byproduct. Duloxetine is metabolized by the liver, mainly via the cytochrome P450 system (CYP1A2 and 2D6) and is susceptible to drug-drug interactions with agents that alter activity of those microsomal enzymes (such as cimetidine and rifampin).
Outcome and Management
The serum aminotransferase elevations that occur on duloxetine therapy are usually self-limited and do not require dose modification or discontinuation of therapy. Rare instances of acute liver failure and chronic hepatitis have been attributed to duloxetine therapy. Persons with intolerance to duloxetine may have similar reactions to other SNRIs and SSRIs and careful monitoring is warranted if other such agents are used.
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REPRESENTATIVE TRADE NAMES
Duloxetine – Cymbalta®
Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH
||CAS REGISTRY NUMBER
References updated: 08 January 2018
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