Antidepressants May Increase Risk of Death for ICU Patients: Study

Side effects of certain commonly used antidepressants, such as Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac, may increase the risk of death if taken by patients in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU), according to the findings of a new study.¬†

At the American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Francisco this week, researchers indicated that ICU patients who take antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be 73% more likely to die within a year than those who did not take antidepressants.

Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge looked at medical records from 10,568 patients who were placed in an ICU, and found that 1,876 had prescriptions for antidepressants. Not only was there a mortality increase for anyone taking an SSRI or SNRI, but it was far worse for patients who had undergone heart surgery or had a heart problem. Patients with coronary problems who were taking antidepressants faced twice the risk of death as other ICU patients.

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The findings did not lead to a causal link between SSRI/SNRI antidepressants and increased mortality for ICU patients, but do show a clear association, according to the researchers.

SSRI antidepressants are some of the most widely used drugs in the United States, although they are a relatively new class of medications. The drugs are used by millions of Americans to reduce symptoms of depression, preventing certain nerve cells in the brain from re-absorbing the chemical serotonin.

Although the drugs have been found to cause fewer side effects than older anti-depressants, previous studies have shown that users of the drugs could also face an increased risk of suicides, and use during pregnancy has been linked to a risk of birth defects from SSRI antidepressants.

Recently, a growing number of Zoloft lawsuits have been filed by families throughout the United States on behalf of children born with birth defects or malformations allegedly caused by use of the medication during pregnancy. The lawsuits allege that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the potential risk posed by side effects of Zoloft for unborn children.

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