Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have determined that postmenopausal women who take antidepressants face a small but statistically significant increased risk for stroke and death compared with those who do not take the drugs. The new findings are from the federally-funded, multi-institution, "Women’s Health Initiative Study" which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
The research, published in the December 14 online edition of Archives of Internal Medicine, examined data from 136,293 study participants, aged 50 to 79, who were not taking antidepressants when they enrolled in the study, and who were followed for an average of six years. When they looked at those who began taking antidepressants, the researchers found no difference in coronary heart disease (defined as fatal and non-fatal heart attacks) but they did observe a significant difference in stroke rates. In fact, antidepressant users were 45 percent more likely to experience strokes than women who weren’t taking antidepressants.
The study also found that when overall death rates (all-cause mortality) were compared between the two groups, those on antidepressants had a 32 percent higher risk of death from all causes compared with non-users.
Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller, senior author, points out that more research is needed to determine the reasons behind these differences. And, because this was an observational study, the findings are not as conclusive of causality as would be the case for a randomized controlled trial.
Still, it certainly adds to the evidence that taking a pharmaceutical anti-depressant is a major life decision.