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Side Effects of Antidepressants More Common Than Previously Thought
A study from Rhode Island Hospital suggests that patients taking depression medications experience side effects from them 20 times more often than is recorded in their psychiatrists' records. Side effects that the patients called very bothersome or frequent were between two and three times more common than what was recorded in the patients' charts.
Medication used to treat depression can cause a large number of different side effects, including fatigue, weight gain and anxiety. One of the most frequent reasons depression sufferers stop taking their medication is because they're experiencing side effects.
In the study, 300 patients who were receiving treatment for depression were asked to complete a questionnaire called the Toronto Side Effects Scale. This questionnaire asks patients if they're experiencing any of 31 different side effects and has them rate how frequent and severe these side effects are. The answers on the questionnaire were then compared to the patient chart kept by the treating psychiatrist.
Taken at face value, the study suggests that psychiatrists are only hearing about 5% of the side effects occurring in their patients who are taking depression medication.
Why aren't psychiatrists hearing about their patients' side effects? According to the study, one reason is that they aren't asking their patients about them often enough. The only specific side effect the study found was regularly being inquired about was sexual dysfunction, possibly because there is a feeling that patients won't bring up that topic without prompting, due to embarrassment.
The researchers also suggest that patients will often stop reporting side effects to psychiatrists once they become accustomed to the fact that their medication will cause them. These side effects showed up on the study questionnaire because it asked specific questions about them.
The researchers also question whether industry-sponsored studies of depression medications are accurately reporting the prevalence of these medications' side effects. If they aren't, psychiatrists won't know how common these side effects generally are and will be less likely to inform their patients about them or to ask their patients if they're experiencing them.
The overall picture presented by the study is one of extremely poor communication between patient and psychiatrist.
An article detailing the study and its results was published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
May 6, 2010
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