Prescribing Citalopram Safely
In this Audit
This audit was initially developed in 2012 due to a change in the recommendations for the maximum doses for citalopram,
a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The audit is still relevant to all practices in New Zealand for any patient
currently being treated with citalopram, as no conclusive evidence has since emerged that these recommendations should
The objective of this audit is to ensure that all patients currently taking citalopram for the medical management of
depression (or other mental health disorders) do not exceed the recommended safe dose. Reviewing the doses in patients
taking citalopram is a good way to ensure that the maximum limit is not being exceeded.
In 2012 there was a change in prescribing recommendations for citalopram dosing. The maximum daily dose for citalopram
is now 40 mg in people with no other risk factors, and 20 mg in people aged >65 years. The change was based on research
that showed that higher doses of citalopram can result in QT-prolongation and Torsades de Pointes. Clinical studies have
also shown that 60 mg/day of citalopram is no more effective than 40 mg/day.
At the request of the Medicines Adverse Reactions Committee (MARC), a warning was added to all SSRI, tricyclic antidepressant
and venlafaxine data sheets regarding the risk of QT prolongation and Torsades de Pointes in patients receiving these
As the adverse effects of citalopram at higher doses have the potential to cause long-term harm and even fatalities
is it very important that all health professionals are aware of the dosing requirements and the full range of possible
adverse effects and contraindications. Patients currently prescribed citalopram at higher than the recommended maximum
dose should have their dose titrated down to the correct level or be switched to a different medicine. There may be some
instances where this is not appropriate. In these cases, vigilant monitoring for adverse effects and regular ECG monitoring
It is important to communicate the risks associated with citalopram to patients, as well as counseling patients through
any necessary changes.
further information see: “Prescribing
citalopram safely: an update”, BPJ 42 (Feb, 2012).
It is recommended that prescribers identify eligible patients (i.e. those exceeding the recommended maximum dose) and
adjust doses of citalopram to reflect current dosing recommendations:
|Maximum daily dose
||People 18 – 65 years
||People > 65 years
People with impaired hepatic function
People who are poor CYP2C19 metabolisers or those taking a CYP2C19 inhibitor such as omeprazole or cimetidine
Note that citalopram is contraindicated in people with congenital long QT syndrome, in people in a
manic phase of bipolar disorder and in those concurrently using a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or pimozide.
Citalopram should be used with caution in people with risk factors for QT prolongation (e.g. structural heart disease,
bradycardia, hypokalaemia, hypomagnesaemia or hypocalcaemia), people taking other medicines that can affect the QT interval
(e.g. lithium, sotalol) and people with severely reduced renal function (creatinine clearance <20 mL/minute).
The recommended steps for completing the audit are:
- All patients currently taking citalopram should be identified
- Patients taking doses greater than those recommended should be recorded
- Where clinically appropriate, the dose for these patients should be reduced to equal to or less than the recommended
maximum or alternatively, patients should be switched to another medicine
Best practice action plan
Any patient currently being treated with citalopram should have the following recorded in their notes:
- The daily dose they are on
- Any factors or contraindications affecting the dose, e.g. hepatic impairment
- Any risk factors for QT-prolongation, such as congenital QT disorder or bradycardias
- The presence and severity of any adverse affects to citalopram
And if the dose exceeds the maximum
- A note to correct the dose at the next patient consultation or switch to an alternative medicine, or that the patient
has been contacted to discuss the change
Consider what percentage of patients taking greater-than-recommended doses of citalopram might be expected to be identified
and require a dose reduction or a switch to a new medicine.
Ideally 100% of patients aged 18 – 65 years taking citalopram at doses greater than 40 mg/day and patients aged > 65
years taking citalopram at doses greater than 20 mg/day should be identified.
There may be some cases in which a change to the dosing regimen is not appropriate, however, a target for dose reduction
or medicine switch of close to 100% should ideally be aimed for.
Data for completing the audit
You will need to have a system for identifying patients currently taking citalopram.
Most practices will be able to identify patients by running a query through their patient management system (PMS) for
people who have been prescribed citalopram during the last four months.
Examining consultation notes may be helpful in identifying patients with hepatic impairment and other risk factors,
however, this method may be limited.
The number of eligible patients will vary from practice to practice. Ideally sample size should be “all patients taking
citalopram”, however, this may be too large in some practices, therefore the first 20 results returned from a search can
be used as a sample.
Use the data sheet provided to record
Compare the percentages achieved to the standards set previously. The initial percentage of patients switched to recommended
doses or another medicine will vary from practice to practice and among practitioners and discussing these with your peers
may be useful in establishing treatment goals.
Identifying opportunities for CQI
The first step to improving medical practice is to identify where gaps exist between expected and actual performance
and then to decide how to change practice.
Decide on a set of priorities for change and develop an action plan to implement any changes.
It may be useful to consider the following points when developing a plan for action:
Problem solving process
- What is the problem or underlying problem(s)?
- Change it to an aim
- What are the solutions or options?
- What are the barriers?
- How can you overcome them?
- What is achievable – find out what the external pressures on the practice are and discuss ways of dealing with them
in the practice setting
- Identify the barriers
- Develop a priority list
- Choose one or two achievable goals
- No single strategy or intervention is more effective than another, and sometimes a variety of methods are needed to
bring about lasting change
- Interventions should be directed at existing barriers or problems, knowledge, skills and attitudes, as well as performance
Monitoring change and progress
It is important to review the action plan against the timeline at regular intervals. It may be helpful to consider the
- Is the process working?
- Are the goals for improvement being achieved?
- Are the goals still appropriate?
- Do you need to develop new tools to achieve the goals you have set?
Following the completion of the first cycle, it is recommended that the doctor completes the first part of the
CQI activity summary sheet (Appendix 1).
Undertaking a second cycle
In addition to regular reviews of progress, a second audit cycle should be completed in order to quantify progress on
closing the gaps in performance.
It is recommended that the second cycle be completed within 12 months of completing the first cycle. The second cycle
should begin at the data collection stage. Following the completion of the second cycle it is recommended that doctors
complete the remainder of the CQI activity summary sheet.
Claiming credits for Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
This audit has been endorsed by the RNZCGP as an Audit of Medical Practice activity (previously known as Continuous Quality Improvement – CQI) for allocation of CPD
credits; 10 credits for a first cycle and 10 credits for a second cycle. General practitioners taking part in this audit can claim credits
in accordance with the current CPD programme.
To claim points go to the RNZCGP website: www.rnzcgp.org.nz
Record your completion of the audit on the CPD Online Dashboard, under the Audit of Medical Practice section.
From the drop down menu select “Approved practice/PHO audit” and record the audit name.
General practitioners are encouraged to discuss the outcomes of the audit with their peer group or practice.
As the RNZCGP frequently audit claims you should retain the following documentation, in order to provide adequate evidence of participation in this audit:
- A summary of the data collected
- An Audit of Medical Practice (CQI) Activity summary sheet (included as Appendix 1).