Patients taking an older class of antidepressant medications, known as tricyclics, face an elevated risk of heart disease, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal. But the same study concluded there is no increased risk associated with the newer drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs.
The researchers used data stretching from 1995 to 2007, involving more than 15,000 patients in Scotland. Overall, the study found the use of tricyclic antidepressants boosted the odds of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 35 per cent.
"Tricyclics are known to have a number of side effects: They are linked to increased blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes and all these are risk factors for CVD," said the lead researcher, Mark Hamer, at the University College London.
In recent years, doctors have tended to treat depressed patients with the more modern medications. But tricyclics are still commonly prescribed for a variety of conditions including insomnia, back pain and severe headaches.
If there is an especially good reason to take a tricyclic, a patient could adopt a healthier lifestyle - quitting smoking, losing weight and being more active - to compensate for the increased heart risk posed by the drug, noted Dr. Hamer.