Over-the-counter painkillers could help treat depression

Anti-inflammatory painkillers sold over the counter (like ibuprofen and aspirin) could help to treat depression, according to a new analysis.

As Psych Central reports, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have just reviewed 14 studies containing info on 6262 patients who had symptoms of depression, publishing their findings in JAMA Psychiatry.

They discovered that those patients taking medication for muscle pain or arthritis alongside an anti-depressant tended to see more symptom relief than people taking just an anti-depressant.
It’s not known whether the anti-inflammatories helped because depression itself could have an inflammatory element, but that’s one possibility. It’s also possible that relieving pain helps patients to feel less bleak. (Previous studies have shown a link between physical pain and depression.)

Whatever the reason, Ole Köhler, a medical student and part of the research team, said this could mean more options for personalised treatment programmes in future. The World Health Organisation lists depression as one of the top five reasons for loss of quality of life. It affects approximately one in four of the UK population at some point.

But if painkillers are to become a recommended part of treatment, doctors will need to monitor patients carefully, as there are rare but real dangers associated with the long-term use of tablets like ibuprofen, including organ damage and stomach bleeding. The Danish researchers suggest that in order to identify patients who could be most helped, it might be best to perform a blood test to identify depressed patients who are also experiencing inflammation.

Image via Jason Rogers’ Flickr.

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