antidepressants and heart disease

Antidepressant Use Linked to Sudden Cardiac Death in Women

Researchers say more studies are needed to see if meds are to blame.

Antidepressant Use Linked to Sudden Cardiac Death in Women

Women taking antidepressants may need to take extra care to protect their hearts.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Women who take antidepressant drugs have an increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD, sometimes called sudden cardiac arrest), according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. While this seems to point to the drugs as the likely offenders, researchers warn it may not necessarily be the case. SCD is not the same as a heart attack, in which a blockage in at least one of the coronary arteries deprives the heart of blood. During sudden cardiac arrest, the body’s electrical system to the heart is thrown off; heartbeats become irregular, and the heart starts beating dangerously fast, restricting blood flow to the rest of the body. Most SCDs are caused by arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).

THE DETAILS: Researchers studied data from 63,469 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and looked for links between self-reported depressive symptoms and sudden cardiac death. None of the women who were studied had symptoms of coronary heart disease.

The data showed that women with clinical depression—depression that makes it impossible to function—were twice as likely to die from sudden cardiac death. The researchers aren’t completely sure, though, if this means antidepressant drugs raise the risk of SCD, or if women who need the drugs tend to have heart-unhealthy risk factors like smoking, diabetes, and hypertension (all of which tended to occur among women with more severe depression symptoms). “It’s unclear why these deaths are occurring,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, American Heart Association spokeswoman and associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. “People on antidepressants should not stop taking their medicines.” Previous studies have made a connection between antidepressant use and cardiac problems in people with heart disease, but this one looked at women who weren’t suffering from heart disease. It’s not clear if men taking antidepressants also have an increased risk of SCD, because this study focused solely on women.

WHAT IT MEANS: As troubling as these findings may be to the millions of women on antidepressants, the connection between antidepressants and heart health is unclear. One thing that’s certain, though, is that they’re not cause to suddenly stop taking antidepressant medication. If you’re taking medicine for depression, consult your physician before making any medication changes, and follow these strategies to help come to a decision and protect your heart:


Published on: March 23, 2009

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Former Effexor user

I can only speak from my own experience & I was able to go off of
them by myself but I did ween myself gradually. I really hated the sexual side effects of these pills, so I found myself skipping them in anticipation of the possibility of what may be
likely to happen that evening. Needless to say, I found myself
missing my dosage more often than not so I eventually just quit
altogether. Maybe you could consult another physician's opinion.

My doctor said I couldn't get off of Effexor...

I have been on Effexor for about six years now. I asked my doctor if I should be on that medication for so long. She told me that in order to get off I would have to go into the hospital and be detoxed essentially. Is this true? I really feel like I don't need to be on the medication any longer but I am afraid not to be on the medication. Anytime I miss a day I get really dizzy and sick. Are anti-depressants addictive?

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