Side Effects of SSRI Antidepressant Drugs - Consumer Justice Foundation

Side Effects of SSRI Antidepressant Drugs

Written by Faith Anderson on January 30, 2013
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Antidepressants May Increase Risk of Heart Problems

Although experts claim that complications associated with SSRIs are rare, the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warns that people with pre-existing heart conditions should undergo a heart trace before taking the medications, to check for a rhythm disturbance known as a long QT interval. QT interval is measured with an electrocardiogram (ECG); it is shorter when the heart beats faster and gets longer when the heart beats slower. While some variation is normal, a QT interval that is too long can interfere with the timing of the heartbeat and cause serious complications, including dizziness, fainting and possibly even sudden death. To examine the potential link between SSRI use and a dangerously long QT, U.S. researchers decided to analyze the medical records of more than 38,000 patients in New England.

Certain SSRI Drugs Prolong QT Interval

All of the study participants had recently had an ECG, most had been prescribed an SSRI antidepressant and some had been prescribed methadone. The study authors included the methadone patients for comparison because the drug – used for pain relief and to help addicts get off heroine – is known to prolong QT interval. According to the results of the study, both citalopram and escitalopram were associated with a significantly longer QT interval, as was methadone, and the effect increased at higher doses. Despite these findings, the researchers noted that the actual increase in QT was modest and the associated abnormal heart rhythms are still relatively rare. June Davison of the British Heart Foundation agrees, saying, “Having a long QT interval can potentially increase the risk of a serious abnormal heart rhythm. However, as these abnormal rhythms are very rare, the potential benefits in treating depression would exceed the risk for most patients.”

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The fact that these heart rhythm risks are known though, means that medical professionals should be extra careful when determining what patients SSRI antidepressant treatment is appropriate for. “This report acknowledges that the benefits of this medicine outweighs the risks but it is important that these factors are carefully considered by healthcare professionals for patients with pre-existing health conditions such as certain heart conditions.” As a spokesperson for the MHRA said, “The potential risks associated are well known and restrictions have been placed on the level of dosage for particular groups of patients.” If you have experienced a serious medical problem that you believe to be associated with an SSRI antidepressant or another pharmaceutical drug, our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation can help you get in touch with a lawyer in your area who has experience handling drug injury cases.

Questions About SSRI Use and Pregnancy

  1. taking SSRI while pregnant
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  5. are SSRI drugs safe while breastfeeding
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