A recent study has brought up a new concern in the ongoing litigation against makers of antidepressants such as the SSRI Paxil and the SNRI Effexor. Having just come through a series of suits alleging increased risk of suicidal behavior and links to birth defects, makers of these drugs now have to content with a new allegation from a major study: Antidepressants in these classes may cause damage to patients’ eyes.

Specifically, the study was conducted in Canada on patients aged 65 and up. 19,000 such patients who had been prescribed antidepressants were compared against a 190,000-strong control group of similarly-aged patients who had not been prescribed the medicine. Such a large sample gives the study a strong statistical basis compared to the typically much smaller studies done in clinical trials.

The results of the study certainly are something to consider. Overall, the risk of developing cataracts is 15 percent higher in patients who were prescribed antidepressants than in the control patients. If extrapolated to the current portion of the U.S. population on these medicines, this would mean more than 20,000 cases of cataracts per year. When considering specific medicines, the results become even more precise. Paxil, which caused an increase of 23 percent in cataracts, was seen as less damaging than Effexor, which was linked to a 33 percent increase.

The doctors conducting the study say that this likely can be linked to the direct mechanism of SSRIs and SNRIs, which force serotonin to remain in the bloodstream. The eyes have a number of serotonin receptors, and excess levels of this chemical can cause opacity in the eyes related to cataracts, they explain.

As always, patients are urged to remain on medicines they have been prescribed until they can talk to their doctor. Stopping medication on one’s own initiative is risky and inadvisable — take the time to go to a physician if you have concerns.


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