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Jun 12, 2018
Originally published on June 12, 2018 11:01 pm
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A surprising number of common medications list depression or suicidal thoughts as possible side effects. Those meds include pills to treat acid reflux and anxiety as well as common painkillers and high-blood pressure medications. A new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that people who take these drugs are actually more likely to be depressed. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If you take medication such as Prilosec or Zantac for acid reflux, a beta blocker for high blood pressure or Xanax for anxiety, do you know about the possible side effects? Mark Olfson is a researcher and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.

MARK OLFSON: If you take the time to actually go through the fine print and read the insert, you'll see that each of these medications is associated with depression as an adverse effect.

AUBREY: More than 200 medications have depression as a potential side effect. Sometimes the risk stems from taking several drugs at the same time. Olfson and his collaborators wanted to find out if people who take these drugs are any more or less likely to actually be depressed. To figure this out, they designed a study that included about 26,000 adults. Everyone in the study listed the medications they were on, and they were screened for depression. Olfson explains they took a survey that asks a range of questions.

OLFSON: They'll ask about people's sleep and their mood and their appetite and their ability to make decisions, thoughts about whether life is worth living, all the kind of basic symptoms of depression.

AUBREY: What happened next is the researchers analyzed the medication use and the depression screening results to look for a correlation. Were people taking the medications any more or less likely to have depression?

OLFSON: And what we found is that in fact they're more likely. And the more of these medications you're taking, the more likely you are to report depression.

AUBREY: Taking just one of these medications increased the risk slightly, and people who took three or more of these medications were about three times as likely to be depressed. Fifteen percent of them had depression compared to just 5 percent of people who took none of these medications. I asked Olfson if he was surprised by the findings.

OLFSON: Yes. I was surprised by the strength of the association between the number of medications and your likelihood of being depressed.

AUBREY: The findings are notable given how many people take drugs that are linked to depression. The study found about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is taking at least one of these drugs. Here's physician Don Mordecai. He's national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente.

DON MORDECAI: People should always be ready to ask, what are the risks and benefits of me taking this medication?

AUBREY: Mordecai says if you start a new medicine, keep track of changes and how you feel.

MORDECAI: People who don't have a history of depression and then suddenly start to have symptoms of depression should be concerned that that's potentially due to a side effect or potentially an interaction.

AUBREY: And he says you can talk to your doctor about stopping a medication. For instance, it may be possible to go off a high blood pressure medication if you make other changes.

MORDECAI: Such as changing your diet, limiting your salt intake, increasing exercise.

AUBREY: Strategies that could help you feel better and reduce the risk of depression. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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