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Antidepressants Could Pose Stroke Risk for Older Women

Could antidepressants be bad for your health? According to a Women’s Health Initiative study, participants who reported taking an antidepressant drug had a statistically significant increase in the risk of stroke and of death compared with participants not taking antidepressants. This study was recently featured in a Science Daily post.

“Depression is a serious illness with its own health risks, and we know that antidepressants can be life-saving for some patients. No one should stop taking their prescribed medication based on this one study, but women who have concerns should discuss them with their physicians,” says Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Psychiatry, the study’s lead author.

Depression has already been identified as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and premature death. Tricyclic antidepressants are used less frequently due to their potential for negative effects on heart function.

The link between antidepressant use and cardiovascular disease in older women patients is an important area of study as the use of antidepressants has increased greatly in recent years and older women are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

As such, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) of the National Institute of Health followed more than 160,000 postmenopausal U.S. women for as many as 15 years to assess risk factors for and potential preventative measures against cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

The study did not identify any relationship between antidepressant use and heart disease, although the follow up period provided proof of an associated risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The risks were small, but still statistically significant.

“Previous studies have shown that depression itself has risks as high as those seen with medication in this study,” Smoller adds. “There are other effective forms of therapy for patients at high cardiovascular risk who also have depression, so concerned women can explore these options with their physicians. But for most patients with significant depression, the benefits of antidepressants will outweigh the risks.”

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