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Older women who take antidepressant medications may be at a slightly elevated risk of suffering a stroke and dying prematurely, a new study suggests.

The research is based on data from the Women's Health Initiative, a major U.S. public health initiative to track the long-term well-being of 160,000 postmenopausal women. The research team looked at a subset of 5,500 women who started taking antidepressants. They were followed for an average of six years.

The results showed that women on antidepressants were more likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke - in which a blood vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain - compared to women not on medication. They were also at a higher risk of "all-cause mortality" - or dying of any cause.

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However, the researchers emphasized that the risk appears to be very small and they can't rule out the possibility that the depression itself, rather than the medication, is responsible for some of the increase in mortality. For every 100 women on antidepressants, there were 1.2 deaths per year, compared with 0.7 deaths among those not on the drugs, according to the findings published in Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Woman should not stop taking antidepressants based on this one study," said the lead researcher, Jordan Smoller of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "Depression is a serious illness with its own health risk and we know that antidepressants can be lifesaving for patients. ... For most patients with significant depression, the benefits of antidepressants will outweigh the risks."

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