Antidepressants linked to heart disease, stroke

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Antidepressants thicken the arteries, linking use to heart disease and stroke

The findings come from Emory University researchers who conducted a study of twins to find the possible link between antidepressant use and heart attack and stroke.

Scientists study twins because they have the same genes, making it easier to sort out other contributing health risk factors such as smoking, diet and other lifestyle contributors. For the current study, the authors noted antidepressants may increase the risk of cardiovascular events, independent of depression that can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Carotid artery thickness increased with antidepressant use

For the study, the scientists measured thickness of the lining, or intima, in the carotid arteries that supply blood flow to the brain, using ultrasound. Measuring intima-media thickness is a reliable way to

Normally, intima-media thickness (IMT) progresses at the rate of 10 microns per year. According to first author Amit Shah, MD, a cardiology fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, "In our study, users of antidepressants see an average 40 micron increase in IMT, so their carotid arteries are in effect four years older."

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Among 59 sets of twins, with one taking antidepressants, the researchers saw more thickening of the carotid arteries in those taking SSRI's like fluoxetine (60 percent of those taking antidepressants) and those who took other types.

Dr. Shah says, "I think we have to keep an open mind about the effects of antidepressants on neurochemicals like serotonin in places outside the brain, such as the vasculature. The body often compensates over time for drugs' immediate effects.

Antidepressants have a clinical benefit that has been established, so nobody taking these medications should stop based only on these results. This isn't the kind of study where we can know cause and effect, let alone mechanism, and we need to see whether this holds up in other population groups."

The study found a link between antidepressants and risk of heart attack and stroke and will be presented Tuesday, April 5 at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.

The reason for the link between heart attack and stroke and antidepressant use may be from serotonin changes, but the researchers say the action of the hormone on the blood vessels is complex. Serotonin can either relax or narrow the blood vessels, depending on whether they are healthy or damaged.

Image credit: Morgue File


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