Painkillers Could Be Weakening Your Antidepressants

Common anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the effects of SSRIs

Wondering why your antidepressants aren’t working the way they used to? A new study may have the answer.

New research suggests that anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin not only dull pain; they can also reduce the effectiveness of antidepressants.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that SSRIs, the most widely prescribed medication for depression and anxiety disorders, are rendered less effective when taken with painkillers. Common SSRIs include Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil, Celexa and Zoloft.

According to the researchers’ findings, depressed patients who reported anti-inflammatory drug use were much less likely to have their symptoms relieved by an antidepressant than those who didn’t take anti-inflammatory drugs. The success rate of the SSRIs fell from 54 percent to 40 percent, when combined with NSAIDs or other analgesics like acetaminophen. Taking a painkiller just once within a 12-week period was enough to disrupt the effects of the antidepressants.

The surprising discovery may offer new hope to people who have found little success with medications for depression. Depressed people with chronic pain or arthritis may be especially impacted by the findings. Researchers have long known that pain and depression go hand in hand. A 2004 study of 573 people with depression found that two-thirds reported some degree of pain. Likewise, a study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that depression plays a major role in how much pain arthritis patients experience. Comparing people with the same degree of knee osteoarthritis, scientists found that those with depression reported significantly more pain. 

Just as there are several types of antidepressants used to treat depression, there are also many medications for chronic pain and arthritis. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between pain medication and antidepressants. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that depressed patients with chronic pain who worked closely with their doctor to find the right antidepressant therapy were four times as likely to have their symptoms disappear completely after a year.

Finding the right drug to fight depression has always been a system of trial and error for patients and their doctors. When you’re depressed, it can feel especially difficult to stay on top of your care. These new findings make it all the more clear why it’s important to follow up with your physician regarding your treatment, and to not lose hope if the first drug you try fails to improve your symptoms.

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