In a new study presented this week in New Orleans at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference has found that antidepressants are related to about a 5% increase in clogging of the carotid artery, which carries blood to the brain directly. There carotid arteries are located on each side of your neck under the jaw line.
Carotid artery disease is a condition in which these arteries become narrowed or blocked. When the arteries become narrowed, the condition is called carotid stenosis. However, there is little to no concern for those taking depression medications and should not discontinue their treatments.
Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles says:
“Antidepressant medications may decrease cardiovascular risk by treating depression. Patients should not be concerned or stop taking antidepressant medications on the basis of this study.”
It is important to note that according to experts, studies presented at medical conferences do not undergo the same vetting as research published in peer-reviewed journals, although the study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
To try to isolate the effect of antidepressants on blood vessels, the researchers measured the thickness of the carotid artery, called carotid intima-media thickness. The study authors found that a twin taking an antidepressant had a greater intima-media thickness than a brother not taking the drugs.
Dr. Amit Shah, a cardiology fellow at Emory University explains:
“There is a clear association between increased intima-media thickness and taking an antidepressant, and this trend is even stronger when we look at people who are on these medications and are more depressed. Because we didn’t see an association between depression itself and a thickening of the carotid artery, it strengthens the argument that it is more likely the antidepressants than the actual depression that could be behind the association.”
The findings also held true after compensating for such factors as age, diabetes, blood pressure, current or previous smoking, cholesterol and weight. Other factors weighed included depressive symptoms, history of major depression and heart disease, alcohol and coffee use, statin use, physical activity, education and employment, the researchers said.
It’s not clear why there might be an association between antidepressant use and heart disease. These drugs increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, which are often low in depressed individuals. Shah said increased levels of these chemicals may cause blood vessels to tighten, and this may lead to reduced blood flow to organs and higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Dr. Dominique L. Musselman, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine comments:
“This finding is somewhat counterintuitive since it is well known that SSRIs enhance a tendency to bleed. This is an important finding that needs to be replicated.”
Again, Musselman also strongly advises patients not to stop taking antidepressants based on this study. Not treating depression can have serious consequences for quality of life, survival after a heart attack or other cardiovascular events, she said.
Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.