A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Antidepressant for heart failure? Not so fast

Young girl hugging grandpa around his neck

A recent study found that an antidepressant drug improved heart function in mice with heart failure. But, cardiologists say much more research is needed to see if patients would benefit.

Every once in a while, a promising, potential new use for an existing medication is announced and people get excited. Such as: an antidepressant for heart failure?

That happened months ago with the antidepressant drug Paxil, or paroxetine. Researchers at Temple University said their study showed paroxetine was found to improve heart function in laboratory mice.

Wonderful as that sounds, especially to the 5 million people diagnosed with heart failure, the results of using an antidepressant for heart failure was met with skepticism by a Marshfield Clinic Health System cardiologist and active researcher.

More research needed

“I’m always deeply skeptical of preliminary data because many times it turns out to be wrong or worse yet, untrue,” said Dr. John Yang, who practices in Minocqua and has a special interest in heart failure. “At the very least I would like to see a randomized, double-blind prospective trial.”

Such a study randomly assigns some patients to the drug that’s the current standard of care, and others to the new drug being tested. Nobody knows the individual results of the trial, which are tallied as an aggregate score.

The study should be repeated at least once to verify the findings and should look to the future rather than reviewing prior test results.

Yearning for heart failure medications

Yang said there is no question heart failure is a major health problem. That’s why people want a new medication to be successful.

“But the question is with what they are claiming. Is it really true?” he said.

Yang said he’s uncomfortable with studies conducted or at least financed by pharmaceutical companies that have a vested interest in the outcomes. Previous studies undertaken through the National Institutes of Health were more reliable and took many years to complete.

“One of the big questions that comes up with any study is whether anybody can repeat the trial and come up with the same results,” he said. “And done properly, it’s a long process. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that we don’t know yet.”

The bottom line

Patients with heart failure should not try on their own to substitute Paxil for whatever heart failure medication they’re currently taking.

Anyone with concerns about the effectiveness of their medicines should contact their doctor’s office.

  1. Mar 16, 2019
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