New generation antidepressants such as SSRIs are associated with an increased risk of several severe adverse outcomes in the elderly.
New generation antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are associated with an increased risk of several severe adverse outcomes in the elderly compared with older tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), according to a study published recently in the British Medical Journal.
The study’s authors said in a press release that the risks and benefits of different antidepressants should be carefully evaluated when prescribing these drugs to the elderly. Depression is a common condition in older people, and antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, are widely used. Yet very little is known about the safety of these drugs in the elderly.
A team of researchers at the Universities of Nottingham and East Anglia in the United Kingdom set out to investigate the association between antidepressant treatment and the risk of a number of potentially life-threatening outcomes in older people.
They identified 60,746 U.K. patients aged 65 and over with a newly diagnosed episode of depression between 1996 and 2007. Many patients had other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and were taking several medications.
Patients were tracked until the end of 2008. During this time, 54,038 (89%) received at least one prescription for an antidepressant: 55% of prescriptions were for SSRIs, 32% for TCAs, 0.2% for monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and 13.5% for other antidepressants.
After adjusting for factors which could affect the results, including age, sex, severity of depression, other illnesses, and use of other medications, the team found that SSRIs and drugs in the group of other antidepressants were associated with an increased risk of several adverse outcomes compared with TCAs.
SSRIs were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, stroke, falls, fracture, epilepsy or seizures, and hyponatraemia compared with TCAs. The other group of antidepressants was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, attempted suicide or self harm, stroke, fracture, and epilepsy or seizures.
Depressed patients who were not taking antidepressants at all had a 7% risk of dying (absolute risk of all-cause mortality) some time in the next year, while the comparable risks were 8.1% for those taking TCAs, 10.6% for SSRIs, and 11.4 % for the group of other antidepressants. For stroke, one-year risks were 2.3%, 2.6% and 3.0% (compared to 2.2% for those not on antidepressants) and for fracture they were 2.2%, 2.7% and 2.8% compared to 1.8%.
Among individual drugs, trazodone, mirtazapine, and venlafaxine were associated with the highest risks for several outcomes. Rates of most outcomes were highest in the first 28 days after starting an antidepressant, and also in the first 28 days after stopping.
The authors point out that TCAs were prescribed at lower doses than SSRIs and other antidepressant drugs, which they say “could in part explain our findings.” They also warn that differences between patients prescribed different antidepressant drugs may account for some of the associations seen in the study and suggest that further research is needed to confirm these findings.
However, they conclude that the risks and benefits of different antidepressants should be carefully evaluated when prescribing these drugs to older people.