CHICAGO — Are you aware of the side effects when you’re prescribed a medication? Millions of Americans may have no clue that many of the pills they’re swallowing each day for common health conditions could also cause depression, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that as many as one-third of adults in the U.S. may be unwittingly taking medication detrimental to their mental health. The researchers found that many of these common prescription medications, almost always prescribed for maladies other than depression, increase one likeliness of developing that condition along with one’s risk of suicide.

The researchers analyzed medication use patterns of over 26,000 adults from 2005 to 2014, data collected as a part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They determined that more than 200 common prescription drugs — including medication for hormonal birth control, blood pressure and heart regulation, proton pump inhibitors, antacids, and painkillers — list depression or suicide as potential side effects.

This was the first study to demonstrate that these drugs were often used by patients concurrently, also known as polypharmacy, which especially worsens the risk for depression. About 15 percent of adults in the study simultaneously used three or more of these medications. Five percent didn’t use any of the medications listed, seven percent used one, and nine percent used two of the drugs at the same time.

“The take away message of this study is that polypharmacy can lead to depressive symptoms and that patients and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of depression that comes with all kinds of common prescription drugs — many of which are also available over the counter,” explains lead author Dima Qato, an assistant professor of pharmacy systems at the university, in a news release. “Many may be surprised to learn that their medications, despite having nothing to do with mood or anxiety or any other condition normally associated with depression, can increase their risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, and may lead to a depression diagnosis.”

From 2005 through 2006, about 35 percent of study participants took multiple types of these depression-causing drugs, compared to 38 percent from 2013 to 2014. Use of medications that listed suicide as a possible side effect jumped from 17 percent to 24 percent between those same periods, and polypharmacy with these drugs increase from 2 percent to 3 percent.

Qato is calling on health care providers and pharmacists to be more aware of when patients are taking multiple medications that all list depression as a side effect. She also suggests that drug safety software used in clinics be updated to highlight depression as a potential drug-drug interaction.

“With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue, and this study provides evidence that patterns of medication use should be considered in strategies that seek to eliminate, reduce or minimize the impact of depression in our daily lives,” Qato said.

The full study was published June 12, 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About Ben Renner

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