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Antidepressants Linked to Sudden Cardiac Death in Women

Mar 11, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
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A new study has concluded that women with no history of cardiac problems but who use antidepressants are at an increased risk for sudden cardiac death (SCD).  HealthDay News reports that the reason for the link remains unknown, according to the researchers whose findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"We suspect that their use is a marker for people with worse depression," explained the study’s lead author Dr. William Whang, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan. "The elevated risk seems more specific for antidepressant use, but that use may well be a marker of more severe symptoms," quoted HealthDay News.  Whang noted that the link seemed to be physiological saying, “We found that women who had worse depressive symptoms had higher rates of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and smoking.”  As a matter-of-fact, the report indicated, said HealthDay News, women with clinical depression were at a two-fold risk of experiencing SCD.

The researchers looked at over 63,000 American women in the Nurses Health Study, said HealthDay, with no history of previous stroke or heart disease from 1992 to 2004, said Natural News, and found a link between depression and heart risk; however, the link between SCD and antidepressants was significantly more pronounced.  Also, antidepressant use was not linked with an increased risk of cardiac arrest over fatal heart disease, only with the increased risk of SCD, reported HealthDay News.  Prior research established the link between depression and an increased risk of death for those with heart disease, explained Whang, who noted, "But this was a group of women without heart disease, and that makes it different," said HealthDay News.

Natural News pointed out that the study found women with the highest risk for SCD and fatal coronary heart disease (CHD) expressed the most severe depression symptoms or were on antidepressant therapy.  "We can't say antidepressant medications were the cause of higher risk of sudden cardiac death. It may well be that use of antidepressants is a marker for worse depression," said Whang, reported Natural News.  "The biggest clinical implication is that management of coronary heart disease risk factors may be especially important for those with depressive symptoms.  Taking care of those risk factors can modify the risk for coronary disease," warned Whang, according to HealthDay News.

To determine which women suffered from depression, the team reviewed their self-reported depression symptoms and use of antidepressants, for instance, Prozac, said Natural News.  A link was clearly present with serious heart rhythm problems, which include those causing sudden death, said HealthDay News.  The American Heart Association explained, said Natural News, that SCD causes sudden death from an unexpected loss of heart function.

SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, and Paxil have been described as safe for the heart; however, a number of cardiovascular side effects, such as irregular heart rhythms and potentially lethal arrhythmias, are known to occur in some taking these medications, said Natural News, noting that Prozac maker, Eli Lily, lists a variety of adverse cardiac symptoms on the official package insert for physicians.

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