What is Sertraline?

wiseGEEK Writer

Sertraline is also known by the brand names Lustral® and Zoloft®. It is considered an antidepressant (though it can have other uses) belonging to the types of medications called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Essentially the medication blocks the way the brain uses serotonin, in what is called reuptake, so that more free serotonin is available. It’s believed that having additional serotonin available can help change mood and calm symptoms of depression or of other conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic or generalized anxiety disorder. Other people who use this medication might include those with social anxiety disorder and women who suffer from premenstrual dysmorphic disorder.

Sertraline blocks the way the brain uses serotonin.
Sertraline blocks the way the brain uses serotonin.

In 1991, the US Food and Drug Administration approved sertraline. The company responsible for its invention was Pfizer®. Continued studies on Zoloft® have made it one of the first choice medicines in treating uncomplicated depression, and trials have also demonstrated its efficacy for some patients in treating conditions like OCD. However, comparisons with some other major antidepressants do show a higher risk of side effects. Common side effects with this medication include but are not limited to the following:

Sertraline is sometimes prescribed to help treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Sertraline is sometimes prescribed to help treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

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  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Headache
  • Changes in sleep
  • Excess perspiration
  • Nervous behavior
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tremor
  • Stomach upset
The side effects of sertraline are mild in most elderly patients.
The side effects of sertraline are mild in most elderly patients.

More serious side effects may occur if this medication is mixed with alcohol or taken with certain drugs like erythromycin or blood thinners. People should advise doctors of any medications they take concurrently with Zoloft®. Additionally, smokers may not want to use this drug because smoking lowers it efficacy. Those who should avoid Zoloft® include pregnant and nursing women because there is a slightly elevated risk of birth defects associated with sertraline.

Smoking is known to lower the efficacy of sertraline.
Smoking is known to lower the efficacy of sertraline.

The most serious risk of sertraline is when this medication is given to children or adolescents. Under some circumstances it may increase suicidal thoughts or impulses. Kids and teens requiring any SSRI need to be carefully watched by caregivers to be certain that such behavioral changes don’t occur. On the other hand, incidence of side effects in the elderly is fairly low, and this drug is thought a good treatment for many elderly people suffering from depression, panic disorder or anxiety. It also has low incidence of weight gain which can make it attractive to people in many different age groups.

Sertraline, commonly known by the brand names Zoloft and Lustral, is used to treat depression.
Sertraline, commonly known by the brand names Zoloft and Lustral, is used to treat depression.

There are many SSRIs, and sertraline may be the perfect choice for some people. Many side effects are short lived and won’t continue once a person has adjusted to taking the medication. This does not mean that all people respond favorably to the drug. Some people may find sertraline completely ineffective, or might find side effects continue and are too onerous to bear. Working with a good psychiatrist if a person is prescribed Zoloft® is an excellent idea, since psychiatrists can evaluate if the medication is helping, whether dose increase or decrease is required, and if another drug would be more appropriate.

Many of the conditions for which sertraline is used also benefit from some form of therapy. Standard types include talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. In general, when people suffer from OCD, depression, or anxiety, they are most helped by a combination of drug treatment and therapy.

Headaches are a common side effect of sertraline.
Headaches are a common side effect of sertraline.

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Discussion Comments

anon161218

I found this drug worked for me with depression, anxiety, social phobia, mild ocd and panic attacks. I was also getting regular suicidal thoughts before i took it. I found it needed upping to 150mg a day to effectively work. I still have my bad days but rarely any suicidal thoughts. I feel a lot more positive and want to go out of the house now. However a draw back is unless I have it with food i get heartburn all day. Also frequent headaches that are annoying but I would not trade my peace of mind compared to the headaches as other meds have not worked this well, i.e., seroxat, citalopram, prozac, etc.

The headaches are every other day and feel like my ears are pressurised, tension across my forehead, occasionally behind my eyes, but it is so worth it since I have had no real suicidal thoughts, only minor ocd, a fairly level mood and am more able to contemplate a future now.

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