Antidepressants Tied to Higher Stroke Risk; Study Examines Older Women

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

Antidepressants Tied to Higher Stroke Risk; Study Examines Older Women


Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Older women taking antidepressants face significantly higher risks of stroke and death when compared with their generational cohorts who don't take the drugs, a U.S. study has determined.

In what one of the researchers called the first major look at the mental health of women 50 and older, investigators found that women using antidepressants had a 32 percent higher risk of death than nonusers when all causes of mortality were examined. Their risk of suffering a stroke, fatal or nonfatal, was 45 percent higher.

However, the study found no difference in the frequency of heart attacks of any kind. And the study could not tease apart whether the cause of the higher rates of strokes and deaths among the older women taking antidepressant drugs was the treatment or the depression.

This study may provide one more piece of information as we learn what are the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to depression. The study wasn't able to answer some important questions, such as how much [of the outcome] is due to medication and how much to depression itself, said lead author Dr. Jordan W. Smoller, a psychopharmacologist associated with the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry.

The study's other author, Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, told The Washington Times that antidepressants could be at fault, though.

It has been known that older types of antidepressant agents have some cardiac effects, said Ms. Wassertheil-Smoller, an epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and Dr. Smoller's mother.

The study was published in the Dec. 14 online edition of Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers from six other institutions contributed to the study.

The risks overall for the women, ages 50 to 79, was relatively small - 0.43 percent for stroke annually for users versus 0.3 percent for nonusers - but the findings were significant because of the large number of patients involved, the researchers said.

Results were based on a further examination of data from the federal Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, a 40-center project funded by the National Institutes of Health that was begun in 1994.

The project had 136,293 participants ages 50 to 79 - a unique cohort of women, said Ms. Wassertheil-Smoller.

The study compared 5,496 women taking the drugs to 130,797 not taking the drugs. …

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