The US FDA warned this week that the antidepressant drug Norpramin (desipramine) can cause serious heart-related side-effects.
Desipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant medication manufactured by Sanofi Aventis, can cause disturbances in the heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia in people who have a family history of this or other heart rhythm disturbances, it was revealed.
Cardiac arrhythmia is the medical term for any of a large and varied group of conditions in which electrical activity of the heart is disturbed. As a result the heart beat may be too fast or too slow, or have and irregular beat.
Symptoms associated with arrhythmia can range from an annoying awareness of the heart beat (palpitations) to the very serious including stroke and cardiac arrest (heart attack).
MedWatch, the safety information arm of the FDA, said that these serious side-effects were possible in those taking Norpramin. They also said that arrhythmia was often preceded by seizure in those taking the drug.
It is important to be aware of side-effects when taking any drug, but if you take Norpramin be sure to visit your doctor immediately if you have a family history of heart disease or experience a seizure or other worrying new symptoms. Both the drug manufacturer and the FDA said that Norpramin overdose is more likely to result in death than other tricyclic antidepressants.
Antidepressant drugs are among the most prescribed class of drugs in most developed nations. A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study published in 2007 found them to account for the highest number of prescriptions in the US in 2005 accounting for 118 million out of a total of 2.4 billion. The study also found the number of antidepressants prescribed had tripled between 1988 and 2000.
While older tricyclic medications such as Norpramin are no longer the first choice drug for depression, having been superceded by selective serotonin reuptake inhibiotrs (SSRIs) and other newer antidepressants, they are still widely prescribed and the newer drugs also have long lists of side-effects. Tricyclics are commonly associated with dry mouth, memory loss and drowsiness while SSRIs are commonly linked to a loss of libido. All antidepressants have the potential to worsen depression, and worsen or induce anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, impulsive actions and even trigger suicidal thoughts. If you experience any side-effects you should talk to your doctor immediately.
Fortunately there are a number of safer alternatives to antidepressant medications including lifestyle and dietary changes and certain nutrient and herbal supplements. Examples include:
Exercise: If you are physically able then exercising for 30 minutes regularly can help to combat depression by stimulating release of the body's natural mood enhancing and painkilling chemicals such as endorphins and enkephalins.
Sunlight: Getting outside in the sunshine regularly helps elevate mood as bright light tells the body to produce serotonin and suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) which can have a depressing effect. Sunlight hitting the skin also triggers the production of vitamin D, which also triggers the production of mood elevating neurotransmitters.
Diet: Depression and mood disorders can often be signs of blood sugar imbalances and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Cutting down on sugary foods and drinks and eating a diet plentiful in whole grains, fruit, vegetables and fibre can help.
Meditation/Yoga: These practices have been shown to have beneficial effects on mood and general health when practiced regularly. (see Transcendental Meditation reduces depression, anxiety and associated high blood pressure )
Nutrient Supplements: Vitamin D is required for the production of all of the neurotransmitters whose deficiency is associated with depression e.g. serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline. The amino acids l-tryptophan (or 5-HTP) and l-phenylalanine/l-tyrosine are also needed. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish) are also proven to fight depression.
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