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Abstract Background Studies have reported an increased risk of mortality among people prescribed mirtazapine compared to other antidepressants. The study aimed to compare all-cause and cause-specific mortality between adults prescribed mirtazapine or other second-line antidepressants. Methods This cohort study used English primary care electronic medical records, hospital admission records, and mortality data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), for the period 01 January 2005 to 30 November 2018. It included people aged 18–99 years with depression first prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and then prescribed mirtazapine (5081), a different SSRI (15,032), amitriptyline (3905), or venlafaxine (1580). Follow-up was from starting to stopping the second antidepressant, with a 6-month wash-out window, censoring at the end of CPRD follow-up or 30 November 2018. Age-sex standardised rates of all-cause mortality and death due to circulatory system disease, cancer, or respiratory system disease were calculated. Survival analyses were performed, accounting for baseline characteristics using inverse probability of treatment weighting. Results The cohort contained 25,598 people (median age 41 years). The mirtazapine group had the highest standardised mortality rate, with an additional 7.8 (95% confidence interval (CI) 5.9–9.7) deaths/1000 person-years compared to the SSRI group. Within 2 years of follow-up, the risk of all-cause mortality was statistically significantly higher in the mirtazapine group than in the SSRI group (weighted hazard ratio (HR) 1.62, 95% CI 1.28–2.06). No significant difference was found between the mirtazapine group and the amitriptyline (HR 1.18, 95% CI 0.85–1.63) or venlafaxine (HR 1.11, 95% CI 0.60–2.05) groups. After 2 years, the risk was significantly higher in the mirtazapine group compared to the SSRI (HR 1.51, 95% CI 1.04–2.19), amitriptyline (HR 2.59, 95% CI 1.38–4.86), and venlafaxine (HR 2.35, 95% CI 1.02–5.44) groups. The risks of death due to cancer (HR 1.74, 95% CI 1.06–2.85) and respiratory system disease (HR 1.72, 95% CI 1.07–2.77) were significantly higher in the mirtazapine than in the SSRI group. Conclusions Mortality was higher in people prescribed mirtazapine than people prescribed a second SSRI, possibly reflecting residual differences in other risk factors between the groups. Identifying these potential health risks when prescribing mirtazapine may help reduce the risk of mortality.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Medicine


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication Date