The side effects of antidepressants can pose many risks to health and quality of life. It is important to be aware of any abnormal symptoms when taking the medication and to promptly inform the doctor.
Common side effects of antidepressants
Antidepressants are widely used in the treatment of depression and some other mental disorders. The mechanism of action of these drugs is to change the balance of some chemicals in the brain, which helps regulate emotions and improve depressive symptoms.
However, antidepressants can sometimes cause side effects that affect the health and quality of life of patients. It is necessary to understand the information about the side effects of antidepressants in order to proactively report any abnormal symptoms to the doctor during treatment.
Common side effects of antidepressants include:
Nausea is considered the most common side effect of antidepressants. This is also the reason why many patients abruptly stop taking their medication.
Nausea often occurs during the first week of taking the medication. However, this side effect usually decreases on its own after a few weeks or when the body becomes accustomed to the medication.
To avoid nausea, patients should take antidepressants when they have a full stomach and drink plenty of water. Additionally, they should consult their doctor to use anti-nausea medication when necessary.
Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
Insomnia or excessive sleepiness is also a common side effect of antidepressants. Inhibiting the reuptake of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, muscarin, etc., can stimulate the brain, making it difficult for patients to fall asleep, resulting in restless and shallow sleep.
Most antidepressants have the potential to cause insomnia. However, this condition is more common when using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
Frequent insomnia and difficulty sleeping at night can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day. Additionally, drowsiness can also be a side effect of some antidepressants. These drugs have a sedative effect, which can help induce sleep.
Many patients experience sexual dysfunction when using antidepressants. Symptoms often include decreased libido and difficulty achieving orgasm during sexual intercourse. In addition, men may experience premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction when using antidepressants.
The severity of sexual dysfunction depends on the type of medication, dosage, and individual physiology. Among them, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) tend to cause more sexual dysfunction.
Dry mouth – Common side effect of antidepressants
Dry mouth is a common side effect when using western medicine, including antidepressants. The cause is often due to the mechanism of action of the drug, which can decrease receptors to the brain and reduce saliva production.
Prolonged dry mouth can lead to other issues such as bad breath, cracked lips, tooth decay, and digestive problems. It is best to supplement your body with more water when using antidepressants.
Some antidepressants that can cause dry mouth include doxepin, imipramine, trazodone, mirtazapine, amitriptyline, desipramine, bupropion,…
Using certain antidepressants can cause increased sweating. Sweating is often a result of an increase in the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain, especially norepinephrine.
In fact, increased sweating is a common side effect when using serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Additionally, norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can also cause this side effect.
Weight gain – Side effect of antidepressants
Some antidepressants can increase appetite, especially when used for a long time. Some patients have reported significant weight gain after using antidepressants for 6 months.
Weight gain is considered an unfavorable side effect for depressed patients who are obese, have type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure. Studies show that bupropion may cause less weight gain compared to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline, paroxetine, and citalopram.
Apart from the issues mentioned above, antidepressants can sometimes cause other side effects, including:
- Loss of libido, menstrual disorders in women
- Decreased appetite
- Changes in taste
- Blurred vision, dizziness
- Increase/ decrease in blood pressure
- Emotional changes
- Difficulty urinating, urinary retention
- Breast enlargement in men
- Digestive disorders
- Memory impairment
Some serious side effects of antidepressants:
This side effect occurs when the level of neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain reaches a dangerously high level. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome may include agitation, confusion, sweating, muscle twitching, shivering, and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can also cause high fever, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and unconsciousness.
Some types of antidepressants can have side effects that include:
- Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when medications that affect serotonin levels are taken together.
- This can happen when selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are combined with another medication that also affects serotonin levels, such as some migraine medications.
- Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include agitation, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, fever, sweating, tremors, and muscle rigidity.
- If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Hyponatremia refers to a condition where the sodium level in the blood becomes abnormally low. This can cause dangerous levels of fluid to build up inside cells in the body. This side effect can occur with SSRIs, which can affect a hormone that helps regulate sodium and fluid levels in the body. Older adults may be at higher risk for developing hyponatremia.
Symptoms of mild hyponatremia can include confusion, lethargy, headache, loss of appetite, and muscle cramps. In more severe cases, people may experience fatigue, disorientation, psychosis, agitation, and seizures. Severe hyponatremia can also lead to coma or death.
Allergic reactions can occur with antidepressants, typically in people who are allergic to the active ingredient or other inactive ingredients in the medication. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include rash, itching, swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening, and medical attention should be sought immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Antidepressants and suicidal thoughts
When starting antidepressant medication, symptoms of depression may temporarily worsen, and there is a risk of increased suicidal thoughts or behaviors, particularly in young adults. It is important to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider and to closely monitor any changes in mood or behavior while taking antidepressants.
In individuals with bipolar disorder, antidepressant medications can trigger episodes of mania. This is especially true when antidepressants are used without mood stabilizers.
Symptoms of mania include increased energy and activity, impulsiveness, insomnia, irritability, extreme mood swings, and more. While mania typically does not pose a threat to life, medical support is necessary for treatment.
Some antidepressants have the potential to increase the risk of seizures as a side effect. In particular, Wellbutrin (bupropion) is the antidepressant medication most likely to cause seizures.
Tricyclic antidepressants can also increase a person’s risk of seizures, while newer generation antidepressants have a lower risk of this side effect.
Seizures involve symptoms such as uncontrollable jerking movements of the limbs, confusion, staring, and loss of consciousness. It is important to inform a doctor immediately, especially if it is the first time experiencing seizures, and to seek emergency medical services.
How to manage side effects of antidepressants
Using antidepressant medications can result in some unwanted side effects. Patients need to know how to manage these symptoms in a timely manner to prevent serious situations from occurring.
During the period of taking medication, it is important to pay attention and observe any unusual symptoms in the body. If any side effects occur, patients should proactively inform their doctor to receive support and guidance on how to overcome them.
For mild to moderate side effects, doctors may adjust the dosage and provide guidance on lifestyle changes and habits that need improvement to help alleviate them.
However, in some cases, patients may experience serious side effects. In these situations, reducing the dosage or switching to alternative medications may be necessary. Sometimes, timely medical care is needed to avoid regrettable situations.
How to minimize the side effects of antidepressants
The side effects of antidepressants often have many negative impacts on health and quality of life. Furthermore, some side effects are very serious, even life-threatening although they are rare.
To minimize the risk of experiencing side effects, it is important to pay attention to the following issues:
- Use medication as directed by your doctor. Also, pay attention to any bodily changes while taking the medication.
- If you experience any unusual symptoms, inform your doctor immediately to receive guidance on how to handle them. In some cases, adjusting the dosage may be necessary to avoid potential risks.
- Do not self-medicate or combine different types of medications without consulting your doctor. Even herbal remedies, traditional Chinese medicine, or dietary supplements should be avoided if not prescribed.
- The use of alcohol, tobacco, and stimulants can increase the risk of side effects from antidepressant medication. Therefore, patients should avoid these unhealthy habits while undergoing treatment.
- In addition to drug interactions, some types of antidepressants can interact with food and drink. To ensure safety, patients should avoid certain foods and drinks as directed by their doctor.
- Suddenly stopping antidepressant medication can pose many risks. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor for advice on gradually reducing the dosage to stop the medication safely.
- It is important to combine medication with psychotherapy and other supportive measures and home care to improve mental and physical health. This can help shorten the treatment time and limit the prolonged use of antidepressant medication.
This article has summarized the side effects and precautions to take when using antidepressant medication. We hope that patients can understand and be careful when taking medication. If you experience any unusual symptoms, please proactively inform your doctor to receive timely support.