Questions & Answers: Does Accutane cause depression?

Q. Does the acne drug, isotretinoin (Accutane), cause depression and suicide, or are the psychiatric risks exaggerated?

A. The debate about the safety of isotretinoin (Accutane) parallels the debate about the safety of antidepressant drugs — huge benefits versus what some think are serious risks.

A chemical derivative of vitamin A (retinol), isotretinoin is a wonder drug for the treatment of severe acne. It cuts the output of the sebaceous glands, source of the oils that contribute to acne lesions. It changes the cells that line hair follicles, so they become less likely to block the follicle openings and permit a lesion to develop. And it reduces inflammation (redness and pain). For those with the most severe form of acne, about 90% improve substantially during the 20-week course of treatment. If acne returns, it is usually mild enough to be treated by more conservative methods.

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