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Heart Disease Patients Using SSRIs Higher Risk of Death - Anti-Depressant Drugs Increase May Be Dangerous - Duke University Medical Center

March 4th 2006

Heart Disease Patients Using SSRIs Higher Risk of Death - Anti-Depressant Drugs Increase May Be Dangerous - Duke University Medical Center


Researchers from Duke University Medical Center have discovered that coronary artery disease patients who take common antidepressant drugs may have a significantly higher risk of death.  Even after accounting for such factors as age, degree of heart disease and severity of depression, the researchers found that heart patients taking antidepressant medications had a 55 percent higher risk of dying.

The study suggests that doctors should reconsider treatment options for heart disease patients with depression.  The Duke team-leader, Lana Watkins, Ph.D., say that the findings add further support the potential role of non-pharmocological approaches to treating depression, such as exercise, for reducing the risk of death in depressed heart patients.  She recommends close monitoring of heart patients taking antidepressants. 


The research was not definitive.  According to Watkins, it was only an observational study.  The patients were not randomized to receive an antidepressant or a placebo drug, therefore characteristics of the patients, such as more likelihood for their depression or their medical condition to worsen, may be responsible for the effects.

She says that a randomized study is needed to form a conclusion, plus to “better understand whether antidepressant use is identifying patients likely to have more severe or worsening depression or worsening medical disease during the follow-up period.”

Until now, researchers were unaware of a mortality risk.  Watkins said “We were surprised since antidepressants, particularly the newer class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), have been generally considered safe… Even after taking into account many patient variables, as well as the type of antidepressant, the risk still remained. So there is something important going on here that we don't fully understand."


During the past decade, doctors have considered depression an important risk factor for patients with coronary artery disease.  Anti-depressant drug prescriptions have increased for these patients.  Until now there has not been any data accompanied by tabulated scientific research, especially concerning SSRIs on mortality.

Watkins presented here analysis to the March 4, 2006 annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Denver. The research was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication Staff Writer

Books on Heart Disease

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