Drugs for the treatment of severe depression, which are prescribed to tens of millions of Americans each year, may increase the risks of sudden cardiac death and fatal heart disease in otherwise healthy women, according to medical researchers.
The family of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, includes popular names like Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, and Paxil. They are part of a booming pharmaceutical industry and generally considered to be safer and more effective than first-generation anti-depressants, called tricyclic antidepressants.
However, SSRIs have been linked to severe side effects before, including suicides, loss of sex drive, and birth defects in children born to women taking the drugs during pregnancy. The new findings are the latest to find severe cardiovascular problems, which is a leading cause of death among Americans, associated with taking the drugs.
Researchers Find Depression Drugs Linked to Heart Problems
Doctors from the University of California, San Diego and Columbia University focused on data from 63,469 women participating in a medical study. They found that women with depression were more than twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death and about 40 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to women without depression.
The researchers further suggested that taking SSRIs might have increased the risk of heart problems in women with depression. While stopping short of advising women to stop taking antidepressants, the authors of the research urged further exploration of the apparent link between SSRIs and increased risk of cardiac death.
Millions of Americans Take Antidepressants
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antidepressants, including SSRIs, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Out of the 2.4 billion prescriptions written in the United States in 2005, about 118 million were for antidepressants.
The numbers of antidepressant prescriptions continue to rise, with adult use of the drugs nearly tripling in the past two decades, officials said.