If you’ve been diagnosed with any type of depression, it’s likely that your mental health provider will prescribe an antidepressant.
Antidepressants are medications that are used to treat depression. They work by increasing the availability of chemicals called neurotransmitters in your brain and body.
Neurotransmitters are involved in regulating your moods, feelings and certain aspects of your thinking.
Some antidepressants, such as certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used to treat anxiety disorders.
Most antidepressants are safe and effective when taken as prescribed. However, just like other medications, antidepressants can and often do cause side effects.
If you’re prescribed an antidepressant for depression, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects before you start using your medication.
Below, we’ve listed the types of antidepressants you may be prescribed if you have depression or anxiety.
We’ve also discussed the common side effects of antidepressants, including several that aren’t so well known to the public.
Finally, we’ve explained what you should do if you develop side effects while using any type of antidepressant to treat depression, anxiety or a related condition.
Most of the time, depression and anxiety are treated using a class of antidepressants referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
SSRIs work by increasing the activity of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin plays a major role in stabilizing your moods, promoting feelings of wellbeing and facilitating communication between your brain and nerve cells throughout your body.
Some people with depression have limited serotonin transmission. By increasing the activity of serotonin, SSRIs are often effective treatments for depression, anxiety and certain other mental health disorders.
SSRIs are less likely to cause side effects than older medications for depression. Our guide to SSRIs provides more information about how they work and answers common questions about this class of antidepressants.
Although SSRIs are the most common medications prescribed to treat depression, you may be given other medications in certain circumstances. Other antidepressants include:
Serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SNRIs are similar to SSRIs, but they also increase the activity of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that’s involved in your sleep-wake cycle, attention, memory and focus.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). TCAs are an older class of antidepressants. They’re rarely given as first-line treatments today, but may be used when SSRIs or SNRIs aren’t effective. TCAs usually have more significant side effects than newer antidepressants.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These are also older medications for treating depression. MAOIs are often effective, but are known for causing potentially dangerous interactions when taken with certain foods and medications.
Antidepressants can cause a range of side effects, including side effects that affect your sleep, digestive system and sexual function.
Although most people don’t get serious side effects from antidepressants, mild side effects are common.
For example, in a study of people prescribed SSRIs, researchers found that upwards of 80 percent reported experiencing at least one side effect from their medication.
Below, we’ve listed the most common adverse effects associated with SSRIs, SNRIs and other antidepressants.
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of many antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks of treatment.
In fact, research has found that nausea and vomiting are some of the most common reasons for stopping treatment with antidepressants.
Antidepressant-related nausea can occur for several reasons. It’s usually caused by the central nervous system effects of antidepressants.
With SSRIs, nausea can occur as a side effect of high serotonin levels, as serotonin is active in the gastrointestinal tract as well as the brain.
Nausea is also common in people who stop using antidepressants and develop antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (antidepressant withdrawal).
Most of the time, nausea from antidepressants improves on its own.
If you have severe nausea from your antidepressant, talk to your healthcare provider. They may prescribe anti-nausea medication to help you control this side effect.
Some antidepressants are associated with xerostomia, or dry mouth. When you start to use an antidepressant, you may notice that your mouth doesn’t have as much saliva as usual, or that it feels dry even when it isn’t.
Dry mouth can occur with many antidepressants, but it’s most common with older medications such as tricyclic antidepressants.
Research suggests that older people may have a higher risk of developing this side effect than younger adults.
If you notice that your mouth feels dry while using an antidepressant, try using sugar-free gum to stimulate your salivary glands.
It may also help to avoid beverages that can dry your mouth, such as acidic fruit juices, wine and carbonated drinks.
When this side effect is severe, your healthcare provider may suggest using an oral lubricating gel or artificial saliva.
Many antidepressants can cause hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating. Commonly referred to as antidepressant-induced excessive sweating, or ADIES, this side effect is estimated to affect between four and 22 percent of people prescribed antidepressants.
Sweating from antidepressants usually affects the face, neck, scalp and chest. It can occur in short episodes, during which you may have significant, noticeable sweating.
Your healthcare provider may treat excessive sweating by prescribing additional medication or adjusting your dosage of antidepressants.
Many people experience sleep issues while taking antidepressants, including insomnia (difficulty falling and/or staying asleep) and hypersomnia (excessive time spent asleep or severe daytime sleepiness).
Research has found that some SSRIs, such as paroxetine, sertraline and fluoxetine, can affect people’s sleep architecture — the structure of sleep cycles that a person passes through during the night. This may affect the quality of your sleep.
Other antidepressants, such as the tricyclic antidepressant doxepin, are associated with excessive sleepiness and are sometimes prescribed as sleeping pills.
It’s worth noting that difficulty falling or staying asleep is a common symptom of both depression and many anxiety disorders, meaning your medication may not be responsible if you experience this issue while taking an antidepressant.
Many antidepressants are associated with changes in body weight, ranging from weight loss to significant weight gain.
In initial trials of SSRIs, many people lost weight after starting medication. However, in the long term, many SSRIs and other antidepressants are associated with a steady, noticeable increase in body weight.
Older antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants, are also associated with an increase in body weight and changes in eating habits.
Many people who use antidepressants experience changes in their sexual function, pleasure or level of interest in sex.
Common sexual side effects associated with antidepressants include a weak sex drive, erectile dysfunction (ED), diminished or delayed orgasm and difficult ejaculating.
Sexual side effects from antidepressants are common. In fact, research has found that upwards of 60 percent of people prescribed common SSRIs report experiencing some sexual side effects during treatment.
If you develop sexual side effects from your antidepressant, your healthcare provider may adjust your dosage, switch you to a different type of antidepressant or additional medication to help you maintain normal sexual function.
Our guide to antidepressants and sexual side effects explains more about how antidepressants can affect your sexual function, as well as your options for dealing with this side effect.
Many people have concerns about using antidepressants due to a perception that side effects are severe and long-lasting.
Although some side effects of antidepressants continue for the long term, many are short-term issues that occur during the first few weeks of treatment.
For example, research shows that for many people, issues such as nausea and diarrhea often disappear after a few weeks.
If you’re prescribed any antidepressant and notice side effects during the first few weeks, don’t panic.
Instead, inform your healthcare provider about your side effects and continue using your medication as directed unless you’re specifically told to stop.
Most antidepressants are safe and effective when used as directed. However, antidepressants may interact with other medications and food products.
In some cases, these interactions can cause dangerous reactions and adverse effects.
The following types of medication may interact with antidepressants:
Anticoagulants (medications used to prevent blood clots)
Anticonvulsants (medications used to treat epilepsy and nerve damage)
Methadone (a medication used to treat opioid dependence and chronic pain)
Clozapine (a medication used to treat schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders)
Lithium (a medication used to treat bipolar disorder)
When antidepressants are used with other medications that increase serotonin levels, they can cause serotonin syndrome.
This is a life-threatening syndrome that often begins with symptoms such as tremor, shivering, hyperthermia and changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
Make sure to inform your healthcare provider if you currently use or have recently used any type of serotonergic medication or supplements (such as St. John’s wort) before beginning treatment with any antidepressant.
Older types of antidepressants, such as MAOIs, may cause severe interactions when used with any foods that contain the compound tyramine.
If you’re prescribed this type of antidepressant, your healthcare provider will instruct you to avoid specific foods during treatment.
It’s far from uncommon to experience side effects from antidepressants. In fact, statistically, you have a higher risk of experiencing at least one side effect from your antidepressant than none at all.
If you’re experiencing persistent or severe side effects, the best approach is always to reach out to your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider may recommend switching to a different antidepressant, adjusting your dosage or making changes to the way you use your medication, such as using it at night instead of in the morning.
Sometimes, even a small change to your dosage or the time at which you take your medication can have a big impact on your risk of experiencing side effects.
It’s very common to try several dosages or switch medications before finding the antidepressant that suits you the best.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may not recommend making any changes. Many side effects of antidepressants are temporary in nature, meaning they’ll improve on their own as you use your medication for a longer period of time.
Since some antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly, it’s important not to stop taking your medication without first talking to your healthcare provider.
It’s far from uncommon to develop side effects from antidepressants. If you start to experience side effects after taking an antidepressant, the best approach is to let your healthcare provider know.
Experiencing side effects doesn’t mean that your antidepressant isn’t working effectively. Many side effects get better with long-term use, while others may improve after you make changes to the way you use your medication.
If you’re feeling depressed, you can seek help using our online psychiatry service, which allows you to connect with a licensed psychiatry provider online.
You can also use our free mental health resources to learn more about dealing with depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness.
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Dr. Angela Sheddan has been a Family Nurse Practitioner since 2005, practicing in community, urgent and retail health capacities. She has also worked in an operational capacity as an educator for clinical operations for retail clinics.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, her master’s from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. You can find Angela on LinkedIn for more information.