Common antidepressants may raise the risk of heart disease and an early death, a study suggests.
Almost a quarter of a million Britons were followed for over a decade and a link was found between people on the medication and heart disease.
For people on the common antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) - such as citalopram, sertraline, fluoxetine and paroxetine - the risk of developing cardiovascular disease was 34 per cent higher than in people not on the pills, data show.
The risk of death from heart disease was also 87 per cent higher and the risk of death over the ten-year study duration from any cause was 73 per cent greater.
SSRIs are the most common form of antidepressants but other forms of the medication are available, such as mirtazapine, venlafaxine, duloxetine and trazodone.
For these types of treatment, the risk of death from any cause more than doubled while the risk of heart disease increased by 86 per cent.
However, the data gathered by scientists at the University of Bristol also found antidepressants reduced the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure by 32 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively.
Antidepressants associated with adverse outcomes in long term
“Antidepressants, and especially SSRIs, may have a good safety profile in the short term, but are associated with adverse outcomes in the long term,” the researchers said.
“This is important because most of the substantial increase in prescribing in the past 20 or more years is in long-term repeat prescribing.”
Dr Narinder Bansal, the study’s lead author, said people should not stop taking their drugs suddenly and should speak to their doctor about any worries.
“For anyone with any concerns about their long-term use of antidepressants, we urge them to talk to their GP first before they stop taking the medication. It is very important they do not stop taking them suddenly,” she said.
“Further research is needed to assess whether the associations we have seen are genuinely due to the drugs, and if so, why this might be.
“Meanwhile, our message for clinicians is that prescribing of antidepressants in the long term may not be harm-free.”
Use of medication should be reviewed regularly
Professor Carmine Pariante, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The most important finding from this study – and one that we fully support as psychiatrists – is that the use of antidepressants should be reviewed regularly, and multiple attempts should be made to stop them after prolonged periods of established wellbeing.
“Long-term use of antidepressants should only be considered for people that have recurrent depression and repeated, severe relapses after stopping antidepressants.
“For those patients, the beneficial effects of continuous use of antidepressants are more likely to balance the potential risks.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, added that the study was interesting, but echoed the study authors’ calls for more intricate analysis to unpick what may cause the link.
“However, it’s really important that patients do not stop taking their prescribed antidepressants as a result of this research, but if they are concerned, they should discuss this at their next medication review,” he said.
The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open.