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Antidepressant Use in People with COPD Linked to Increased Risk of Death and Hospitalization

aug2018image002A recent study published the European Respiratory Journal finds that individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who take antidepressants have a 20 percent increased likelihood of death as well as a 15 percent increased risk of hospitalization due to related symptoms.

In fact, the study suggests that adults with COPD who are new users of serotonergic antidepressants have a higher likelihood of hospitalization, emergency room visits and respiratory condition-related mortality, as well as a higher rate of death overall when compared to non-users of the antidepressants.

"We were not surprised by these findings, as there are biological reasons why antidepressants could lead to respiratory issues," said Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital and the lead author. "These drugs can cause sleepiness, vomiting and can negatively impact immune system cells. This increases the likelihood of infections, breathing issues, and other respiratory adverse events, especially in patients with COPD."

“COPD is a progressive lung disease that causes increasing breathlessness. It affects more than 10 percent of those aged 40 and older worldwide. Because of the nature of the disease, upwards of 70 percent of those with COPD also struggle with symptoms of low mood and anxiety,” said Dr. Vozoris.

Vozoris and his team leveraged health administrative databases from the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences to analyze more than 28,000 individuals with COPD who recently began to use serotonergic antidepressants and were 66 years of age or older. The study revealed that these individuals had a significantly increased rate of both breathing-related and overall death.

"The study results should not cause alarm among those who use these medications, but rather increase caution among patients and physicians," Dr. Vozoris said. "I hope our study encourages increased awareness when prescribing these medications and monitoring for adverse side effects. Also, because there is this association, we as physicians should give thought to psychotherapy and pulmonary rehabilitation as non-drug related treatment."

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