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Jun 04, 2014

Psychiatric Medications May Increase Heart Attack Risk

Researchers urge further education on drug safety after finding link between antipsychotic medications and heart attack risk.

Researchers are urging further education on drug safety after finding an association between antipsychotic medications and heart attack risk.

Published in the American Heart Association’s medical journal, Circulation, this study included nearly 57,000 Taiwan patients treated for a heart attack between 1999 and 2009. Patients included in the study were diagnosed with schizophrenia, mood disorders or dementia, many of which took antipsychotic drugs to treat their condition. Antipsychotic medications interfere with a number of chemicals in the brain and are often used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe anxiety or depression.

The problem is that patients with mental disorders are already at increased risk for cardiovascular events. In fact, people with mental illnesses have anywhere from 2-5 times greater risk of heart disease than the general population. As a result, researchers hoped to assess the safety of antipsychotic meds to determine whether prescription drugs further increase cardiovascular risk in patients with mental disorders.

After comparing patients’ heart attack risk while taking prescription drugs vs. not taking meds, researchers found that taking high doses of antipsychotic drugs significantly increased risk for heart attack. Investigators also found that these drugs significantly increased risk within the first month of use.

Based on these findings, authors suggest that antipsychotic drug use may temporarily increase risk for heart attack, especially when taken in high doses. It’s standard practice to start patients off on as low of a dose as possible, but authors highlight the importance of keeping dosage to a minimum to reduce heart attack risk. Researchers also encourage future studies on this issue and encourage more in-depth patient education about the possible risks associated with psychiatric medications.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Can mental health affect heart health?
  • Yes. Although there’s still much to learn, research suggests there is a close connection between mental and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that patients with a mental illness, like depression, are at increased risk for heart disease. It’s also possible that having heart disease increases risk for depression and can worsen outcomes. It’s important to discuss all aspects of health, including mental health, with your doctor.
  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.


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Tom has had two heart attacks triggered by familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). He has become a vocal and educated advocate for his disease and a positive example for his four children.

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Taking time to unwind and relieve stress is important for heart health. Learn more »