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Risk of ventricular arrhythmia with citalopram and escitalopram: a population-based study

Qirjazi E, McArthur E, Nash DM, Dixon SN, Weir MA, Vasudev A, Jandoc R, Gula LJ, Oliver MJ, Wald R, Garg AX. PLoS One. 2016; 11(8):e0160768.


Background — The risk of ventricular arrhythmia with citalopram and escitalopram is controversial. In this study we investigated the association between these two drugs and the risk of ventricular arrhythmia.

Methods — We conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study of older adults (mean age 76 years) from 2002 to 2012 in Ontario, Canada, newly prescribed citalopram (n = 137 701) or escitalopram (n = 38 436), compared to those prescribed referent antidepressants sertraline or paroxetine (n = 96 620). After inverse probability of treatment weighting using a propensity score, the baseline characteristics of the comparison groups were similar. The primary outcome was a hospital encounter with ventricular arrhythmia within 90 days of a new prescription, assessed using hospital diagnostic codes. The secondary outcome was all-cause mortality within 90 days.

Results — Citalopram was associated with a higher risk of a hospital encounter with ventricular arrhythmia compared with referent antidepressants (0.06% vs. 0.04%, relative risk [RR] 1.53, 95% confidence intervals [CI]1.03 to 2.29), and a higher risk of mortality (3.49% vs. 3.12%, RR 1.12, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.18). Escitalopram was not associated with a higher risk of ventricular arrhythmia compared with the referent antidepressants (0.03% vs. 0.04%, RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.68), but was associated with a higher risk of mortality (2.86% vs. 2.63%, RR 1.09, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.18).

Conclusion — Among older adults, initiation of citalopram compared to two referent antidepressants was associated with a small but statistically significant increase in the 90-day risk of a hospital encounter for ventricular arrhythmia.

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Keywords: Risk assessment Drugs (psychotherapeutic)

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