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From allergy meds to heartburn pills: The surprising drugs that may make you depressed

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Allergies might make you irritable – but you wouldn’t think the treatment for them could make you depressed. 

Yet a surprising number of common, seemingly innocuous drugs may treat one ailment and cause a psychological one. 

About a third of Americans are on at least one drug that may cause depression but many may be suffering completely unaware that their medications are wreaking havoc on their moods.  

What’s more, even doctors may not realize what they’re signing their patients up for.  

In the US, adults are using more than 200 drugs that may cause depression and/or suicidal thoughts. 

One out of every three Americans are taking something on a regular basis that may be destabilizing their moods for the sake of treating some other symptom, sickness or condition. 

And the more such medications someone is on, the more likely they are to actually experience depression, a recent JAMA study found. 

About 200 drugs commonly taken by Americans may cause depression – including everything from allergy medications to beta-blockers and even antidepressants themselves 


No drug – whether prescription or over-the-counter – is without side effects. 

Side effects, or adverse events, are anything a drug does to you besides whatever purpose you took it for. 

Before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug to be sold to the public, the medication’s makers must show that it does more good than harm in order to prove that it is ‘safe.’ 

But that is the key, arguably subjective judgment: the rewards outweigh the risks, but the risks are certainly still there. 

If more than 10 percent of participants in clinical trials of the drug experience any given side effect, it has to be listed in the ‘common’ side effects section of a drug’s label. 

Any side effect considered serious – those that could significantly impact your daily activities, land you in the hospital, or even become life-threatening  – must also be listed. 

From there, the drug’s label has to list additional potential side effects depending on the class (or kind) of drug it is and how many trial participants reported those effects. 


Over 16 million Americans – and 300 million people worldwide – suffer from depression. 

Between 2013 and 2016 alone, diagnoses of depression rose by 33 percent in the US, and the increase was seen across all age groups.   

Simultaneously, more and more Americans are taking drugs that may inadvertently cause depression. 

Between 2005 and 2014, the number of Americans taking medications that could cause the mood disorder rose by 37.2 percent, according to the JAMA report, published this past summer. 

Adults in the US are also taking more prescriptions medications than in past years, with about 15 percent of the population taking five or more (as of 2011 and 2012). 

And depression was significantly more common among those who took multiple drugs for which depression is a side effect.  

Some 15 percent of people taking three or more medications for which depression was a side effect did in fact find themselves depressed while taking these drugs, the JAMA report’s authors found. 

That rate was three times higher than the rate of depression among those who were not taking such medications (4.7 percent of whom said that they had been depressed). 


Everything from anti-allergy drugs to the very drugs intended to treat depression might plunge you into a bout of the blues. 

Depression that comes on as a side effect may even be tipping the scales of the overall rate of depression in the US, the JAMA study suggests. 

Interestingly, fewer people who were prescribed antidepressants reported feeling depressed than did people on three or more drugs that list the mood disorder as a side effect.

Still, depression is listed as a possible side effect for most common antidepressants, including Lexapro and Wellbutrin. 

Antidepressants were the most commonly used single type of drug with depression as a side effect in 2014, the JAMA study found. 

Following antidepressants, drugs to treat upset stomach and heartburn, like Prilosec, were the next most frequently reported drug with mood side effects. 

Even household painkillers like ibuprofen and popular heartburn medications like Prilosec maybe depressive.  

The JAMA study’s authors paid particular attention to patients who used drugs to treat high blood pressure, such as beta-blockers.  

People who took three or more drugs that could cause depression, including at least one for hypertension, were far more likely to actually become depressed than people with high blood pressure not on such drugs. 

In other words, it doesn’t appear that high blood pressure itself is contributing to depression – but drugs to treat it might be. 

The link between contraceptives and depression has been long and hotly debated among doctors and patients alike, but many warn of the possibility on their labels and remain among the most commonly used drugs that may be to the detriment of a woman’s mood. 

Certain allergy and asthma medicines, like Singulair, also warn that they may cause depression, as do corticosteroids, sedatives, hormone replacement therapies and seizure medications. 


Any drug can have broader, unintended consequences. 

The resounding answer to why side effects happen is simple: the body is complicated. 

Every body system that makes us us runs on a complex series of chemicals that relay messages and carry out essential processes. 

Drugs are intended to readjust, replace or reduce our levels of these various chemicals to get us back into proper working order. 

But most of these chemicals serve more than one purpose, and even if they are particularly niche, they interact with many more systems and other chemicals. 

So every molecular addition had broad reverberations – some minor an livable, others bizarre to the point of being frightening and still others truly dangerous. 

There’s no way to know how you in particular might respond to a drug – as your chemical make up is as unique as you are. 

But you can certainly talk to your doctor about your medical history – if you have a history of depression, it may be best to avoid drugs that may cause or aggravate the disorder if possible – and try to minimize the number of potentially depressive drugs you take.           


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