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Keywords:

  • intracranial haemorrhage;
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors;
  • serotonin

Aims In the past few years an increasing number of bleeding disorders have been reported in association with the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including serious cases of intracranial haemorrhage, raising concerns about the safety of this class of drugs. The present study was performed to test the hypothesis of an increased risk of intracranial haemorrhage associated with the use of SSRIs.

Methods We carried out a case-control study nested in a cohort of antidepressants users with the UK-based General Practice Research Database (GPRD) as the primary source of information. The study cohort encompassed subjects aged between 18 and 79 years who received a first-time prescription for any antidepressant from January, 1990 to October, 1997. Patients with presenting conditions or treatments that could be associated with an increased risk of intracranial haemorrhage were excluded from the cohort. Patients were followed-up until the occurrence of an idiopathic intracranial haemorrhage. Up to four controls per case, matched on age, sex, calendar time and practice were randomly selected from the study cohort. We estimated adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals of intracranial haemorrhage with current use of SSRIs and other antidepressants as compared with nonuse using conditional logistic regression.

Results We identified 65 cases of idiopathic intracranial haemorrhage and 254 matched controls. Current exposure to SSRIs was ascertained in 7 cases (10.8%) and 24 controls (9.7%) resulting in an adjusted OR (95%CI) of 0.8 (0.3,2.3). The estimate for ‘other antidepressants’ was 0.7 (0.3,1.6). The effect measures were not modified by gender or age. No effect related to dose or treatment duration was detected. The risk estimates did not change according to the location of bleeding (intracerebral or subarachnoid).

Conclusions Our results are not compatible with a major increased risk of intracranial haemorrhage among users of SSRIs or other antidepressants at large. However, smaller but still relevant increased risks cannot be ruled out.