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Antidepressant use linked to increased stroke risk in postmenopausal women

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Results of a new study show that post menopausal women who take antidepressants may be at increased risk for stroke and death. The findings come from the Women's Health Initiative Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The findings revealed that post menopausal women taking antidepressants had a 45 percent increased risk of stroke, compared to women who were not taking antidepressants.

The findings were obtained from the data of 136,293 study participants, aged 50 to 79, who were not taking antidepressants at the beginning of the study.

Six years later at follow up, 5,496 women were taking antidepressants. The researchers compared 130,797 women not taking antidepressants to those that were.

In addition to a 45 increased percent risk of stroke, women taking antidepressants were also found to have32 percent higher risk of death from all causes.

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Senior study author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, PhD says it is not entirely clear whether antidepressants were responsible for the increased risk of stroke and death in the women, or if depression may be the underlying cause. Several studies have linked depression to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

The risk of stroke found in women taking antidepressants is small - 0.43 percent risk of stroke annually compared to 0.3 percent annual risk of stroke for women not taking antidepressants. However because antidepressants are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller says small risks are significant for large populations of post-menopausal women.

Lead study author Jordan W. Smoller, M.D., Sc.D says, “While this study did find an association between antidepressants and cardiovascular events, additional research needs to be done to determine exactly what it signifies. Older women taking antidepressants, like everyone else, should also work on modifying their other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as maintaining a healthy weight and controlling cholesterol levels and blood pressure."

The findings are observational and do not definitely establish that antidepressants are the cause of the findings. Based on the study ,Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller says it is important to weigh the benefits of antidepressants against the small increased risk of stroke. She says women should discuss use of antidepressants with their physician, especially if they are concerned.

Archives of Internal Medicine