These days, many Americans are taking antidepressants to deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some may be dealing with seasonal or situational depression (such as the loss of a loved one), while for others depression and anxiety are chronic conditions related to major mental illness. While many would argue that antidepressants are prescribed too often without exploring other options, such as behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes, it can’t be denied that prescription medications can be very helpful for some depression sufferers. Unfortunately, as with any type of prescription medication, antidepressants come with their fair share of side effects. Some are more bothersome than others and each person may react differently, with varying levels of severity.
These days, there are three major types of antidepressants that are commonly prescribed. The most common are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by making serotonin (the body’s feel-good hormone) more available to the brain. SSRIs are more commonly prescribed because they are thought to have fewer side effects than some other options. Closely related are SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), which work on serotonin and norepinephrine and are also thought to have minimal side effects. Commonly prescribed name brand SSRIs include Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro and Paxil. Commonly prescribed brands of SNRIs include Cymbalta and Effexor.
On the other end of the spectrum are NDRIs (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors), which affect dopamine and norepinephrine. Currently, the only approved NDRI is sold under the name brand Wellbutrin. Older types of antidepressants also still exist, but are less often prescribed to patients.
If you pay attention to the warning information that comes along with your prescription antidepressants, you know that the list of side effects can be long, even with those products that are deemed less likely to cause side effects. Outlined below are some of the most common side effects of antidepressants.
*Drowsiness: Nearly every type of antidepressant causes some drowsiness (also referred to as sedation), which is unfortunate considering the depressed person may already be suffering from a lack of energy and desire to escape in sleep.
*Insomnia: Ironically, antidepressants can also cause insomnia, agitation and irritability. You might have difficulty sleeping or feel jittery and agitated.
*Sexual dysfunction: Antidepressants, among other prescription medications, are a major cause of sexual dysfunction. They can lead to decreased libido in both sexes, erectile dysfunction in men, and vaginal dryness and difficulty reaching orgasm in women.
*Weight gain: Both SNRIs and SSRIs are known to cause significant weight gain in many people. Wellbutrin, on the other hand, may cause nausea and a decreased appetite, which can lead to initial weight loss (although the weight is often slowly gained back over time or more quickly when the medication is stopped).
Other side effects of antidepressants that are quite common across the board include nausea, stomachache, headaches and diarrhea. Most of these side effects fade over time. Other side effects vary depending upon the type of antidepressant, but can include bladder issues, constipation, high cholesterol, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth and seizures. These side effects may be more rare, but can be quite serious.
The fear of side effects alone might not be enough to keep depressed patients from considering an antidepressant medication. However, it is important that patients are well aware of the risks, which doctors often seem to downplay or skim over. Even those side effects that aren’t especially dangerous can still considerably affect your quality of life, especially if you experience multiple side effects from antidepressants. For many, the relief from depression symptoms is well worth the side effects involved, but for others, the cost may be too high. Remember, some antidepressants carry a higher risk of side effects than others, so switching up your medication (per your doctor’s advice) may be one way to limit your side effects while still benefiting from antidepressants.