Antidepressants and Anxiety Meds Spike Parkinson's Risk in Women Over 65, New Study Finds

Post-menopausal woman who are taking psych meds should take note.

It's relatively common for individuals suffering from a mental health condition to use antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. And while psychiatrists normally caution patients about the side effects when first starting such medications (like developing a slight headache or nausea), these are usually short-term issues that eventually subside as the brain and body get used to the medication.

While anti-depressants are the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans, helping millions of people manage their mental health, a recently published study now says they may cause Parkinson's Disease in women over 65. This discovery may have you second-guessing your use of anti-depressants, especially if you have been taking them for a long period of time. Read on to see why this common medication could cause Parkinson's Disease and what you can do to combat your risks.

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What is Parkinson's Disease?

Woman holding up a pill with a blue backround.
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

Parkinson's Disease is a brain illness that causes out of control movements and ticks, as well as trouble balancing. Symptoms usually start out slow and progressively become worse. According to Parkinsons.org, there are close to one million people in the U.S. living with Parkinson's Disease right now, and the numbers are continuing to climb.

Women have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's Disease than men for reasons that have not been determined, but they are also less likely to be be diagnosed with the disease if they do have it because they often downplay symptoms and are less likely to seek treatment. Women even experience different symptoms than men. If you are a woman and have been taking anti-depressants for a long period of time or are considering doing so, figuring out your risk factors for this disease is crucial.

Unfortunately, the cause for Parkinson's Disease is relatively unknown, but there are a few different factors that seem to have a hand in the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include genes and environmental triggers like being exposed to harmful toxins. Overall, the likelihood of getting diagnosed with PD also will increase as you age, but men are still more likely to develop the disease over women.

Can taking anti-depressants increase your Parkinson's Disease risk?

Anti depressants in a orange bottle.
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In a study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, researchers linked the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication with an increased risk of developing Parkinson's Disease for women who are 65 and older.

The research team looked at data collected from 53,996 women over 65 across the U.S. between 1993 and 1998 for the Women's Health Initiative (WHI).

Researches from the study wrote, "Study findings provide sufficient evidence in favor of monitoring psychotropic medication users, especially those using antidepressants and anxiolytics, amongst women 65 years and older, for [Parkinson's] motor and non-motor symptoms within healthcare settings."

The study also found that using one or more anti-depressants was "significantly tied" to women having a greater chance of getting PD. About 23 percent of the women used one medication, while five percent used two or three types at once. Taking one medication was linked to around a 50 percent increased risk of Parkinson's compared with those who didn't use any, while use of two or more showed about a 150 percent increased risk, reports Parkinson's News Today.

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This is something to consider when choosing to take an anti-depressant.

Anti-depressants
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This isn't the first study to uncover this harsh reality. "Anti-depressants have long been linked to Parkinson's Disease, with some studies indicating that taking certain anti-depressants can increase the risk of developing this condition. However, other anti-depressants may be a better choice for patients struggling with depression and anxiety," says Sarah Watson, LPC, a psychologist and life coach.

It's important to note that more studies and evidence need to be found to validate these claims, but it is still something to consider if you are taking these medications. "While further research needs to be done to confirm these findings, this potential risk is enough for many patients and physicians to consider other options for treating depression. Also, other antidepressants be on the market that do not carry this risk and are worth exploring,"says physician, Kellie K. Middleton, MD/MPH.

READ THIS NEXT: If You Can't Smell These 3 Foods, Get Checked for Parkinson's, Experts Say

There are alternatives to taking medication.

A woman jogging with a water bottle.
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Of course, not everyone with a mental health condition takes anti-depressants. It's important to find what works best with your needs and other risk factors, but if you are a woman over 65 you may want to look at all your options. "It's essential to consider other treatment options, such as therapy or lifestyle changes that can also help manage depression and reduce the risk of Parkinson's Disease," says Watson.

Using different tools like making sure you exercise and get enough nutrients are just a few ways you can cut your risk of getting PD, as well as manage your mental health. "Several alternatives might be a better choice than antidepressants when it comes to treating depression," says Middleton. "These include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness training, or lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. The best approach will depend on each patient's situation and preferences."

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson is an Associate Editor at Best Life. Her work has been published in Teen Vogue, Allure, HuffPost, and more. Read more
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