Wednesday Bubble: heart disease, depression and menopause

Posted by on Dec 30, 2009 in depression, heart disease | 1 comment

Today’s Bubble is not exactly bursting with good news. On the other hand, it more a matter of erring on the side of caution.

Depression in menopause and midlife is a common occurrence. Although researchers are not quite sure of the exact reasons for its surge during the transition,  (e.g. declining hormone, life stress, prior history), many women tend to suffer the blues during this time. In addition to physical activity or herbs, many practitioners recommend that women incorporate a low-dose antidepressant into their daily strategy. Yet, while this might help to maintain mood balance, researchers are starting to question whether or not using antidepressants may increase the risk for dying from heart disease during menopause. Yikes! So, we are given drugs to help boost our moods during menopause but they may end up killing us in the long run? Somehow the old adage, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ doesn’t make me feel better this time.

In a study that appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers examined information collected from over 136,000 women who had participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Study who either were or were not taking antidepressants over a period of about 6 years. The findings? Women who used SSRI antidepressants had a 45% increased risk of stroke, and a 32% increased risk of death.  This risk remained even after researchers took other heart disease risk factors into account, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

Here’s the rub: depression is a known risk factor for heart disease and death from heart disease, and has also been linked to an increased risk for stroke. So, researchers are not certain if it’s the chicken (depression) or the egg (antidepressants) that is accounting for these study results.

So, what can you do? Should you throw away the pills?

Not so fast. Speak to your doctor. Get tested for known heart disease risk factors, such as overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, diabetes and of course, smoking. Incorporate heart healthy changes into your life, such as physical activity, a better diet, yoga, meditation and laughter. And then figure out if the benefits of antidepressants are worth the risks. These data are early and inconclusive. Just something to be mindful of if you are in menopause.

One Comment

  1. 1-2-2010

    Yikes is right. This analysis definitely makes one realize the importance of being extra viligent of one’s health. Thanks for this info!


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