A new international study published in JAMA Psychiatry looks at 45 meta-analyses, covering some 1,000 studies, and finds that antidepressants are generally safe.
There has been a sharp growth of antidepressant use worldwide. These drugs rank third among prescribed medications and fourth among sold medications. It is estimated that up to 10 percent of American adults take at least one antidepressant.
But the safety profile of antidepressants has remained somewhat controversial. Some prior studies have found strong associations between antidepressants and some adverse health outcomes, while others have not.
“As far as we know, this is the first study to assess the safety and adverse health outcomes associated with antidepressant use on such a large scale, considering real-world data. However, it is important to note that our study did not evaluate the efficacy of the drugs,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Elena Dragioti, at Linköping University, Sweden.
Meta-analysis studies combine the results of independent studies, improving the power and generalizability or application of the research. Researchers systematically assessed the evidence from 45 reviewed meta-analyses that included more than 1,000 observational studies. These are studies that observe whether there are differences between individuals who are exposed to a treatment and those who are not, without any intervention from a researcher.
The studies included covered different age groups, underlying psychiatric conditions, and possible adverse health outcomes.
“We found that all of the adverse health outcomes reported in observational studies that were supported by strong evidence were actually probably due to the underlying psychiatric conditions for which antidepressants had been prescribed, rather than the antidepressants themselves. Most of these studies also suffered from several biases, such as a lack of randomization,” said Dr. Marco Solmi, psychiatrist and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
Despite the positive review, experts explain that more research is necessary.
“Even though we have shown that antidepressants are generally safe, we should note that adverse effects must be monitored clinically during antidepressant treatment. Further, we have only limited evidence from randomized clinical trials about long-term adverse health outcomes.
“Moreover, we were not able to assess several newer antidepressants due to limited available data,” says senior author Dr. Evangelos Evangelou, epidemiologist from the University of Ioannina, Greece and Imperial College, London, UK.
Source: Linkoping University