The study conducted at St. Michael's Hospital does not show cause and effect, however, it suggests strong association.
‘Among individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the risk of respiratory-related adverse events may be increased by the use of serotonergic 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, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto and a respirologist at St. Michael's.
Using health administrative databases from the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), Dr. Vozoris and his team studied 28,360 new users of serotonergic antidepressants with COPD aged 66 and older and matched them to an equivalent amount of non-users. The analysis revealed that among older adults with COPD, new users of this class of medication have modest, but significant, increases in rates of breathing-related death and all causes of death. The research showed a strong association, but not a definite cause and effect.
"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."
Dr. Vozoris plans to continue to study other classes of medications used for treatment of psychological issues in patients with COPD to build a more complete picture of medication risks.