MONDAY, April 26, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A widely used type of antidepressant may help protect cardiovascular health by slowing the clumping of blood platelets, thus reducing the risk of hardening of the arteries and blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke, U.S. researchers say.
The new study compared 25 depressed patients taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and 25 healthy people who weren't taking an antidepressant. Blood samples were taken at the start of the study and again four and eight weeks later.
At four weeks, the rate of platelet clumping was 95 percent in the healthy volunteers and 37 percent in the patients taking an SSRI. However, platelet clumping in the SSRI-treated patients was higher at eight weeks than at four weeks. This suggests that SSRIs have the greatest effect on platelet clumping in the early stage of treatment, the study authors explained.
The study findings are scheduled to be presented Monday at the American Physiological Society conference, held April 24 to 28 in Anaheim, Calif.
The researchers plan to analyze blood samples taken after 12 weeks and will also conduct a study using a different brand of SSRI.
"The reason we're doing this is to better the lives of depressed patients," study author Dr. Evangelos Litinas, a research associate at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., said in a news release from the American Physiological Society.
"There is clear evidence that depressed patients have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and we want to eliminate that. Since depression can be treated with an SSRI, maybe the cardiovascular disease risk can also be decreased. We want our patients to live longer and happier lives, without depression or the risk of heart problems," Litinas said.
The American Heart Association outlines steps you can take to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack.