Magazine article Science News

Beta Blockers, Depression: Breaking the Link

Magazine article Science News

Beta Blockers, Depression: Breaking the Link

Article excerpt

Beta blockers, a class of drugs frequently prescribed for high blood pressure, have been linked with depression in the past. But a new epidemiologic study may force doctors to reexamine the evidence linking beta blockers with the blues.

In general, physicians hail these drugs as a crucial weapon in the fight against hypertension, migraine headaches, certain forms of violent behavior and even stage fright. Yet during the 1980s, several scientific reports suggested beta blockers might cause clinical depression, a very serious disorder characterized by hopelessness and suicidal tendencies.

Now, Roselie A. Bright of the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, Md., and Daniel E. Everitt of the Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia offer evidence that may clear the shadow of depression from the beta blocker story.

Using Medicaid reimbursement claims filed in New Jersey from July 1980 to December 1983, the team identified 4,302 people who had at least one sign of serious depression, such as the use of antidepressant drugs or electroconvulsive shock therapy. The researchers then matched these individuals with 8,604 controls whose claim forms showed no signs of depression.

When the team went back and studied the claim forms for prescription drugs, they discovered an association between beta blockers and depression. Depressed individuals were 1.45 times more likely than controls to have taken beta blockers for at least a year before their mood disorder surfaced.

That seemed to lend credence to the earlier reports. But when the researchers added so-called confounding factors to their statistical analysis, the link between depression and beta blockers dissolved. The crucial factors were frequent use of prescription drugs, frequent trips to the doctor's office and repeated use of anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines, the team reports in the April 1 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. …

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