Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, physicians and researchers have investigated the factors that predict how well people manage COVID-19 once infected and have looked to the potential effects of existing drugs on COVID-19 severity. A new study published in Molecular Psychiatry highlights the possibility that psychiatric medication may be beneficial for those combatting COVID-19.
The new study was based on previous research that had suggested that people living with major depressive disorder who took antidepressants are more likely to have lower plasma levels of certain pro-inflammatory mediators that have been linked to severe COVID-19. The idea of antidepressants playing a potentially protective role in COVID-19 had also been bolstered by mechanistic data suggesting that antidepressants could inhibit the activity of acid sphingomyelinase, which could prevent epithelial cells from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The researchers for the Molecular Psychiatry study evaluated the impact of antidepressants using data from adults who had been hospitalized for COVID-19. Of the 7,230 adults analyzed, 345 of them received antidepressants in the first 2 days of hospitalization. The results showed that hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received antidepressants were significantly less likely to be intubated or die than those who did not take antidepressants while hospitalized.
Upon digging further, the researchers also found that the association between antidepressants and reduced risk of intubation and death existed for both serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as well as non-SSRI antidepressants. Specifically, fluoxetine, paroxetine, escitalopram, venlafaxine, and mirtazapine all appeared to improve the likelihood of recovering from COVID-19 without intubation.
These results suggest that antidepressants may be beneficial for preventing severe COVID-19. However, more research is needed to determine the role that these drugs may play in fighting COVID-19 now and in the future.
Hoertel N, Sánchez-Rico M, Vernet R, et al. Association between antidepressant use and reduced risk of intubation or death in hospitalized patients with COVID-19: results from an observational study. Molecular psychiatry. Published online 2021. doi:10.1038/S41380-021-01021-4