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Steroids more than double suicides

Oral steroids greatly increase the risk of suicide – by more than four-fold at high doses – a new study of UK general practice concludes.

Previous research has suggested the drugs adversely affect mental health, but the new study of half a million patients is the first to link them to suicide.

Prescribing advisers suggested use of depression screening questions in patients who had recently started on the drugs.

Current use of oral steroids raised the risk of suicide 2.5-fold, analysis of patients on the UK general practice research database found. Those taking daily doses of more than 30mg were at a 4.2-fold increased risk.

Study leader Professor Hubert Leufkens, scientific director of the Utrecht Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Holland, said: 'Use of oral steroids was associated with increased risk of suicide, especially in patients with high daily doses and recent starters. These findings remained after stratification on the history of psychiatric comorbidity or suicide attempt.'

Dr Peter Elliott, prescribing lead for Redbridge PCT and a GP in South Woodford, Essex, said the findings indicated a need to carefully monitor mental health in steroid users.

'When you're starting people on steroids you do check how they're doing, so it's a case of adding the two questions on depression.'

The analysis of 244,235 steroid users plus controls will be presented at the International Conference on Pharmacoepidemiology and Therapeutic Risk Management in Lisbon.

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