Middle-aged women who take antidepressants could be nearly 40 per cent more likely to have a stroke, scientists claim.
But it is unclear whether it is the pills or other factors linked to depression that raises the risk.
A study of more than 80,000 women aged 54 to 79 over a six-year period found those who had been depressed were 29 per cent more likely to have a stroke.
However, patients who took Prozac, Seroxat or similar medication were 39 per cent more at risk. Until recently there was little research on the long-term dangers of common antidepressants taken by millions of Britons a year.
But only last week a study by British scientists indicated they increased the risk of death, heart attacks and falls in the elderly.
Last year, 23million prescriptions were written out for Prozac, Seroxat and similar types of drugs known as SSRIs, a rise of more than 40 per cent in four years.
Last night, health experts said women should not stop taking their medication as they could not be sure it was causing strokes.
Patients with depression are often overweight, tend to smoke or fail to exercise, factors that also increase the risk of stroke, the U.S. researchers, from Harvard Medical School, in Boston, told the American Heart Association.
Kathryn Rexrode, senior author of the research said: ‘I don’t think the medications themselves are the primary cause of the risk. This study does not suggest that people should stop their medications to reduce the risk of stroke.
‘Depression can prevent individuals from controlling other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension, from taking medications regularly or pursuing other healthy lifestyle measures such as exercise.
‘All these factors could contribute to increased risk.’
Dr Peter Coleman, of the Stroke Association, said patients on antidepressants should continue taking them.
‘Depression is a very serious condition which needs to be treated carefully by healthcare professionals. This research appears to indicate that women suffering from depression may be less motivated to maintain good health or control other medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which have an associated increased risk of stroke.
‘However, it is very hard to determine whether there is a direct link between depression and stroke risk and a lot more research is needed in this area before depression alone can be viewed as a stroke risk factor.
‘It’s important that anyone taking antidepressants should continue doing so, and anyone concerned about their overall stroke risk should speak to their GP.’