Antidepressants may reduce risk of second heart attack - study

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Taking antidepressants may significantly reduce the chance of a second heart attack.

A South Korean study published in JAMA found patients who suffered from a heart attack were 20 percent less likely to have another, if they took escitalopram, a drug commonly used to treat depression in New Zealand. 

But AUT lecturer Dr Catherine Crofts says not all medications have such positive side effects. She said some antidepressants will have additional negative outcomes, or there is a risk that there might be negative outcomes for cardiovascular disease.

"We cannot explain why this antidepressant [escitalopram] was successful in reducing the risk of a subsequent cardiovascular event. It does not appear to be a 'class effect' as, in another study, sertraline [a drug similar to escitalopram] showed no benefit in reducing mortality."

The study was conducted in a relatively small group of Korean people who did not have severe cardiovascular disease. Therefore, Dr Crofts says it's difficult to know if these results will apply to Europeans or any other ethnic groups or to people with severe cardiovascular disease.

"Previous research has not shown these benefits when different antidepressant medications have been used," she said. "We know that relatively low doses of this medication were effective. This means that the cardiac health benefits may not be related to treating the depression."

However, Dr Crofts said depression can have negative effects on health, so treating depression can improve a number of health outcomes. She said there is another study in progress using a citalopram, which is a very similar medication to escitalopram. 

But overall, Dr Crofts said more research is needed to "better understand what has happened in this study."