Antidepressants May Raise Risk of Bipolar Disorder: What You Need to Know

depressed womanWe all know someone who's on antidepressants. If not for the long run, then just to get through a particularly rocky patch. OR to lessen anxiety. OR to relieve PMS. OR to treat postpartum depression. But according to a new study, some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants may up your risk of developing bipolar disorder and mania.


The antidepressants in question? Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are marketed under names like Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac. Venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) is another similar drug that was also implicated in the study recently published in BMJ.

London researchers analyzed the medical data of 21,000 adults in the U.K. who were treated for major depression over a period of seven years. Apparently, the risk of developing bipolar disorder or mania increased by  one-third in patients who were treated with SSRIs or venlafaxine.

About 3 percent of Americans have bipolar disorder. If you're not familiar, it causes enormous mood swings. People with bipolar disorder experience periods of elation and boundless energy, as well as periods of severe depression and hopelessness.

There's no cure for bipolar disorder, but symptoms can be managed with mood-stabilizing medication.

More from The Stir: Why Your Anti-Depressant Could Be Making You More Depressed

Mania is usually grouped with bipolar disorder, as nearly all cases eventually lead to depression. But by itself, it's the episodes of euphoric highs without the really cruddy, bottomless lows.

So, should you be freaking out about these results -- especially if you or a loved one are on one of these drugs? Aeva Gaymon Doomes, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in Washington, DC who specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, and adult women, doesn't think so. In fact, she doesn't find the results that surprising.

Don't you love when experts put everything into perspective?

"Well-trained psychiatrists are aware of the risk of emerging mania when treating what initially presents as unipolar depression in a patient," Dr. Doomes explains. "It's a well-known fact that antidepressant therapy can precipitate a manic state."

But! It's not very common. And those who ARE affected, says Dr. Doomes, "generally ... are patients that have a family history of bipolar disorder or severe mood disorder."

Unless your family falls into that category OR has a history of severe mental illness OR you've already been exhibiting signs of mania, there's probably no reason to ask your doctor about switching meds.

"SSRIs are generally safe, and approved drugs generally have an acceptable risk benefit profile," reassures Dr. Doomes. "Depression can be a potentially fatal condition -- [as in] suicide. Therefore, someone who has signs and symptoms of depression should seek treatment to avoid potentially disastrous consequences that may come with untreated clinical depression."

Still worried? Talk to your doctor anyway, Dr. Doomes advises. Discuss your medication. And ask him or her to describe symptoms of mania -- like insomnia and "mood elevation" -- that you should be aware of.

"It's very important to have a doctor that takes a careful, detailed family and medical history, and provides an open line to communicate any change in your functioning or mental status," adds Dr. Doomes.

Hopefully that sounds like the therapist you see. If not, maybe it's time to find another. 


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