What is the role of serum cyclic antidepressant measurement in the workup of tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) toxicity in pediatric patients?

Updated: Mar 18, 2020
  • Author: Derrick Lung, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Stephen L Thornton, MD  more...
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Serum cyclic antidepressant levels are typically available through reference and research laboratories only, and thus are not available for at least several days, well after the peak of toxicity. Therefore, levels may only be used to retrospectively confirm suspected poisoning or give a rough estimate of overdose.

However, serum levels do not correlate with toxic effects. This is due to the highly lipophilic nature of cyclic antidepressants and high degree of protein binding. Because of the large volume of distribution, tissue levels of cyclic antidepressant are often much higher than serum levels of free drug.

In fact, a meta-analysis of 18 studies of prognostic indicators in cyclic antidepressant overdose found that prolongation of the QRS interval on the electrocardiogram had pooled sensitivity and specificity similar to that of serum cyclic antidepressant concentrations in predicting dysrhythmias, seizures, and death. Both measures had relatively poor predictive performance, however. [11]

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