Antidepressant use and risk of adverse outcomes in people aged 20–64 years: cohort study using a primary care database

Carol Coupland, Trevor Hill, Richard Morriss, Michael Moore, Antony Arthur, Julia Hippisley-Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in young and middle-aged adults, but there is relatively little information on their safety across a range of adverse outcomes in this age group. This study aimed to assess associations between antidepressant treatment and several adverse outcomes in people aged 20–64 years diagnosed with depression.

Methods: We conducted a cohort study in 238,963 patients aged 20–64 years registered with practices across the UK contributing to the QResearch primary care database. Only patients with a first diagnosis of depression were included. Outcomes were falls, fractures, upper gastrointestinal bleed, road traffic accidents, adverse drug reactions and all-cause mortality recorded during follow-up. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios associated with antidepressant exposure adjusting for potential confounding variables.

Results: During 5 years of follow-up, 4651 patients had experienced a fall, 4796 had fractures, 1066 had upper gastrointestinal bleeds, 3690 had road traffic accidents, 1058 had experienced adverse drug reactions, and 3181 patients died. Fracture rates were significantly increased for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (adjusted hazard ratio 1.30, 95% CI 1.21–1.39) and other antidepressants (1.28, 1.11–1.48) compared with periods when antidepressants were not used. All antidepressant drug classes were associated with significantly increased rates of falls. Rates of adverse drug reactions were significantly higher for tricyclic and related antidepressants (1.54, 1.25–1.88) and other antidepressants (1.61, 1.22–2.12) compared with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Trazodone was associated with a significantly increased risk of upper gastrointestinal bleed. All-cause mortality rates were significantly higher for tricyclic and related antidepressants (1.39, 1.22–1.59) and other antidepressants (1.26, 1.08–1.47) than for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors over 5 years but not 1 year, and were significantly reduced after 85 or more days of treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Mirtazapine was associated with significantly increased mortality rates over 1 and 5 years of follow-up.

Conclusions: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors had higher rates of fracture than tricyclic and related antidepressants but lower mortality and adverse drug reaction rates than the other antidepressant drug classes. The association between mirtazapine and increased mortality merits further investigation. These risks should be carefully considered and balanced against potential benefits for individual patients when the decision to prescribe an antidepressant is made.
Original languageEnglish
Article number36
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2018


  • Antidepressants
  • Depression
  • Fracture
  • Falls
  • Gastrointestinal bleed
  • Mortality
  • Adverse effects

Cite this