Antidepressants May Raise Death Risk for Critically Ill

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People taking antidepressants may have higher risk of dying within a year of entering a hospital’s intensive care unit, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that intensive-care patients taking antidepressants were 73 percent more likely to die over the next year than patients not taking depression medication. The link was stronger among patients suffering from certain diseases.

Patients in the study were taking drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SSRIs are a class of antidepressants that includes such well-known drugs as Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft; SNRIs include such drugs as Cymbalta and Effexor.

"The benefits of SSRIs for the treatment of depression are well documented," said study researcher Dr. Katherine Berg, a critical care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. But because of the difficulties of performing long-term studies of the drugs, there is less known about their long-term effects, Berg said.

The researchers found an association between antidepressant use and higher mortality, but the findings do not suggest the drugs cause deaths. Other factors, such as smoking or depression itself, could play a role, they said, and more research is needed

Researchers at BIDMC and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge analyzed medical records from 10,568 critically ill patients entering the ICU, 1,876 of whom were taking an antidepressant.

Patients suffering from certain heart conditions, or who had undergone cardiac surgery, were twice as likely to die in the ICUif they were taking antidepressants, compared with those who were not on the medications. But in patients with other illnesses, such as those suffering from sepsis bacterial infections, there was no increased mortality among those taking antidepressants.

SSRIs have recently been linked to higher incidences of bleeding, dizziness, strokes and falls, the researchers said. While antidepressants have continuously been improved to have fewer side effects, the study aimed to understand possible consequences and drawbacksof the second most-prescribed medication class in the U.S.

Depression affects more than 16 percent of U.S. adults and medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs are the most commonly prescribed in treating the disease, according to Berg. Such drugs work by increasing the number of neurotransmitters that are active in the brain, which is known to be safe and effective in the short term.

The research will be presented at this week’s American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Francisco.

Pass it on: Taking an antidepressant may mean you’re more likely to die within a year of entering the intensive care unit.

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Live Science Staff
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