Taking This Common Medication Long-Term Can Lead to Heart Disease, New Study Says

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. among both men and…

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. among both men and women, accounting for one in every five deaths in the nation. Despite these frightening statistics, many of us still unknowingly put ourselves at heightened risk of heart disease through our health and lifestyle habits. Now, a new study is shedding light on one way we accidentally increase our risk: A common medication used by millions of Americans could put us in danger. Read on to learn which drug could be endangering your heart, and what to do if you’ve been taking it long-term.

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Research shows that several types of medication have been linked to serious heart conditions. According to an American Heart Association report published in the medical journal Circulation, most of these drugs exacerbate existing heart problems, rather than causing problems directly through myocardial toxicity.

To make matters worse, your heart risk rises if you mix medications, experts say. In fact, a May 2022 study published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety found that “using multiple medications with known cardiovascular adverse effects at the same time doubled, and sometimes tripled, the risk for a heart attack, stroke or death among older adults with no prior cardiovascular disease.”

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According to a Sept. 2022 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, using antidepressants for a period of 10 years is associated with a twofold increase of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. The antidepressant drugs most closely associated with adverse heart effects were mirtazapine, venlafaxine, duloxetine, and trazodone, though certain serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were also linked with heart complications.

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However, the study also noted that the same data, collected from over 220,000 adults who contributed to the U.K. Biobank, revealed that 10-year antidepressant medication use was linked with 23 reduced risk of high blood pressure, and a 32 percent reduced risk of diabetes.

“Our message for clinicians is that prescribing of antidepressants in the long-term may not be harm-free [and] we hope that this study will help doctors and patients have more informed conversations when they weigh up the potential risks and benefits of treatments for depression,” Narinder Bansal, MD, study author and honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol said in a press release (via Medscape).

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Though the study found a correlation between antidepressant use and various heart conditions, it stopped short of establishing causation. In fact, depression is itself considered a risk factor for heart disease, since those suffering from depression are more likely to smoke, lead a sedentary lifestyle, sleep poorly, or carry excess weight.

However, experts say that these related lifestyle factors are not the only reason depression and heart conditions are linked. “Trauma, depression, anxiety and stress can lead to changes that can affect your health, and not just because you may fall into habits that are bad for your heart. Research shows that mental health also has physiologic effects on the body,” explains the American Heart Association. These include having excess cortisol from stress, higher blood pressure, and more.

The researchers maintain that whether the association is one of causation or correlation, the study’s takeaway remains unchanged. “Regardless of whether the drugs are the underlying cause of these problems, our findings emphasize the importance of proactive cardiovascular monitoring and prevention in patients who have depression and are on antidepressants, given that both have been associated with higher risks,” said Bansal.

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The study suggests an urgent problem, given the rising rates of long-term antidepressant use. According to a 2018 article in The New York Times, over 15.5 million Americans have been taking antidepressants for at least five years, and 25 million have taken them for two years or more.

“Antidepressants are one of the most widely prescribed drugs. Seventy million prescriptions were dispensed in 2018, amounting to nearly a doubling of prescriptions in a decade,” the study authors say. “This striking rise in prescribing is attributed to long-term treatment rather than an increased incidence of depression.”

If you’ve been taking antidepressant medication long-term, speak with your doctor about whether your current treatment plan could cause any adverse effects—especially if you believe you may be at high risk for heart disease. They may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend alternative treatments with a lower likelihood of side effects.