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New Study Sheds Light on Weight Gain Risks Associated with Different Antidepressants

Millions of Americans rely on antidepressants to manage depression, a condition affecting roughly 14% of U.S. adults.


Millions of Americans rely on antidepressants to manage depression, a condition affecting roughly 14% of U.S. adults. However, weight gain is a common side effect that can discourage people from taking their medication or adhering to long-term treatment.

Fortunately, a new study by researchers at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute offers valuable insights. Their investigation examined weight gain variations among eight commonly prescribed antidepressants, pinpointing medications with the lowest and highest risk of weight gain.

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Bupropion Stands Out: The study found that people taking bupropion for depression were 15-20% less likely to experience significant weight gain (defined as 5% or more of body weight) compared to those taking sertraline, the most commonly prescribed antidepressant.

Variation Within Classes: Interestingly, the research revealed differences in weight gain risks even within the same class of antidepressants. For example, sertraline, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), appeared to have a lower risk of weight gain compared to other SSRIs like escitalopram and paroxetine, which carried a roughly 15% higher risk in the first six months.

Real-World Data: The study leveraged electronic health records from over 183,000 adults (aged 18-80) who were new antidepressant users across eight U.S. healthcare systems participating in PCORnet, a large research network.

Addressing Limitations: While randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard for drug comparisons, they can be expensive and time-consuming. This study addressed this limitation by mimicking a randomized trial using a carefully designed methodology and real-world data analysis.

“This study provides crucial real-world evidence regarding weight gain associated with some of the most common antidepressants,” said lead author Joshua Petimar, MD, assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. “This information can empower clinicians and patients to collaboratively choose the most suitable antidepressant treatment plan, considering weight gain alongside other factors.”

The study emphasizes the importance of discussing weight gain concerns with a healthcare professional. By understanding the variations in weight gain risks among different antidepressants, patients and doctors can make informed decisions about treatment options that best address individual needs and preferences.

While weight gain is a significant concern, it is just one factor to consider when choosing an antidepressant. Other factors, such as individual response to medication, side effects beyond weight gain, and underlying medical conditions, all play a role in treatment decisions.

This research paves the way for further studies exploring the mechanisms behind the varying weight gain risks associated with different antidepressants.



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