The use of antidepressants in order to fight severe depression might lead to heart-related problems, and even to sudden cardiac death in women, according to Doctors from Columbia University in New York and the University of California in San Diego.
The scientists said that the results do not necessarily mean that antidepressant drugs pose serious dangers to health. "We suspect that their use is a marker for people with worse depression," explained the main author of the study Dr. William Whang, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. He added that the increased risk can be attributed to antidepressant use, "but that use may well be a marker of more severe symptoms." The scientist also explained that the link between depression and heart disease is considered to be more physical, rather than psychological, and said that female patients with severe symptoms of depression were more likely to develop health problems such as hypertension and diabetes.
For their study, the experts analyzed data of 63,469 American women who were taking part in the Nurses Health Study from 1992 till 2004. None of the women reported any signs of heart disease at the beginning of the study, but almost 8 per cent were diagnosed with serious depression. Overall, the results showed that women who suffered from depression were more than twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death - death that is typically the result of an irregular heartbeat, and 37 percent of women were more likely to die of heart disease, compared to women without depression.
What turned out to be the biggest surprise was that while the team of experts did find a relationship between depression and heart-related issues, the incidence of sudden cardiac death was more closely linked with the use of antidepressant drugs rather than with the depression symptoms. According to Dr. Whang, all this simply means that the patients who have been prescribed antidepressant drugs, were, most probably diagnosed with severe forms of depression. However, he said that the findings still need more exploring and investigation, and warned the patients not to stop using their antidepressants based on the study results.
Williams added that, in spite of the fact that an older form of antidepressants, called tricyclic antidepressants, in the previous studies were found to increase a person's risk for heart attack, these drugs have been already substituted by a newer class of antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
It can be said that antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that nearly 118 million out of 2.4 billion prescriptions that were given out in 2005 by doctors in the United States, were for antidepressant drugs. The CDC report also showed that the numbers are climbing up day by day - antidepressant use by adult patients almost tripled for the period between 1988 and 1994 to the period from 1999 to 2000.
Antidepressants have been linked to a variety of side effects, from the more or less moderate, such as nausea, diarrhea, rush, headaches, to more dangerous, including increased risk for suicidal thoughts and suicide. In general, when people are depressed, the are less likely to take a good care of themselves. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that individuals who already have heart problems should be regularly checked for depression symptoms and signs - because depressed patients may not take their medications in time, they tend to sit at home instead of exercising, and consume unhealthy diet.
The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
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