Antidepressants linked to thicker arteries


Antidepressant use may lead to thicker arteries and contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, according to a study by Emory cardiology researchers.

Researchers studied male twins who both served in the Vietnam War to separate the effects of antidepressants from the depression itself, which also can heighten the risk of heart disease. The twin who took antidepressants had higher carotid intima-media thickness, even with standard heart disease risk factors taken into account.

“One of the strongest and best-studied factors that thickens someone’s arteries is age, and that happens at around 10 microns per year,” says Amit Shah, a cardiology fellow. “In our study, users of antidepressants saw an average 40-micron increase in intima-media thickness, so their carotid arteries are in effect four years older.”

Antidepressants’ effects on blood vessels may come from changes in serotonin, Shah says. Some antidepressants increase the level of serotonin in the brain, but serotonin also is found in the intestines and in platelets. Serotonin can cause blood vessels to constrict or relax, depending on whether the vessels are damaged. 

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Emory Medicine Fall 2011