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What are the Side Effects of Antidepressants?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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There are numerous side effects associated with most antidepressants. A list of these can be daunting and encourage people to avoid these drugs even if they truly need them. It should be clearly understood that not all people will experience all side effects. Some will have greater sensitivity and be likely to experience more side effects than others, and many people will have few, if any, problems as a result of taking an antidepressant.

Due to the high number of antidepressants, and the varying reactions people may have to them, it is probably better to look at general side effects associated with certain classes of drugs. The three main classes of medications used to treat depression are selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Antidepressant side effects associated with each group can be very different, and though having a general list is fine, every individual medication will have slight variance in side effect risk and expression. One of the best sources for evaluating possible problems with a single medication is the pharmacist, who normally will give out a printed drug information sheet that lists specific information.

Common antidepressant side effects associated with SSRIs include but are not limited to the following:

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  • Weight gain/weight loss
  • Reduction in sexual interest (libido) or sexual function
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth or dry eyes
  • Headache

There is a very serious side effect of SSRIs that should be noted. Especially in teen and young adult populations these antidepressants may increase suicidality. This can also occur in any person who takes an SSRI. Increased suicidal feelings or a sense of wanting to die should be reported to a therapist or the doctor prescribing medications. Another complication occurs when people who have bipolar disorder are treated with antidepressants; they are at great risk for these medications inducing mania or extreme anxiety.

Tricyclic antidepressants may have some of the following side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Rash
  • Abdominal upset
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Dry mouth

Many tricyclic antidepressants are also highly toxic and doctors may avoid prescribing them to patients with suicidal intentions. Overdose on some tricyclics can quickly be lethal. Even accidental overdose requires emergency care.

MAOI antidepressant side effects can be significant and may encompass the following:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Drowsiness or Sedation
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach problems
  • Headache

MAOIs can react with certain foods and medications. These reactions can be serious can and of most concern is that specific chemical interactions may dangerously increase blood pressure. Anyone taking an MAOI should discuss with their doctor what foods and medications to avoid.

There are other medications used to treat depression and mood disorders and these include a group of meds called atypical antipsychotics. Though these are not commonly used to treat depression, some medications like Abilify® are marketed specifically for this purpose. Abilify® is unsafe in elder populations because it may increase risk of stroke. Atypical antipsychotics are also associated with significant weight gain, inner restlessness (called akathisia), involuntary movements, increased risk of diabetes, and extreme sedation or drowsiness.

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