Anti-depressants are medications or “happy pills” depressed people often find solace in. While anti-depressants can be instrumental in curing various modes of depression and related clinical disorders, they have side-effects that are sometimes, prolonged and harmful.
If you’re someone who relies on anti-depressants, it is important that you know the side-effects that might affect you. While certain side-effects are limited to physical inconveniences, others can be psychological. Most side-effects are temporary and fade away, but certain side-effects are for prolonged periods. The type of side-effects you face might be a direct consequence of the drug you are using, the effects it has on your system and short-term and long-term usage. While the side-effects can be varied in different individuals, number of side-effects has been identified in this article.
What are the Side Effects of Anti-Depressants?
Like all other forms of medication antidepressants also have certain side effects which show up at some point of the treatment process. Since these antidepressants drugs affect the workings of the brain in more ways than one it creates a very sensitive situation for the patient on whom these drugs are being administered, these drugs affect individual patients in different ways depending on their genetic make-up, pre-existing health condition, previous episodes of mental health disorders.
The side effects of antidepressants are rarely the same in multiple patients, differences or variations might be exhibited in the type of side effect and also the severity to which affects the condition of the patient.
The common side effects of antidepressants medication include
- An abnormal increase in appetite.
- Sudden loss of interest in sexual activity and other conditions like erectile dysfunction and reduced orgasms.
- Constant fatigue and a general drowsiness.
- Chronic or episodes of insomnia.
- Blurred vision and general or episodes of dizziness.
- Behavioral changes such as agitation and irritability.
- Constipation and in some cases diarrhea.
- Inducing episodic or general anxiety.
These are merely the common and widely known side effects of antidepressant drugs. The only known and recommended measure a patient can take to avoid suffering from these is by trial and error which is to say that if a patient who has been prescribed an antidepressant which lead to them suffering from any one or multiple side effects then the only way to stop that is by changing the medication by using a different drug and hoping it will be compatible to their body. Stopping the medication without consulting a doctor might bring about a withdrawal which can have severe consequences on the mind and the body of the patient.
Apart from the above listed common health issues which show up as side effects of antidepressant drugs, there is one major side effect which is an increase in suicidal tendencies in young adults and teenagers during the early stages of their treatment. It’s best to consult with the doctor is suicidal thoughts show up frequently and consider changing the medication and preferably take talk therapy along with the medication.
To discuss the ways and various extents to which each of the side effects listed above manifests themselves in different people who use antidepressants to tackle their depression it is convenient to mention the type or class of antidepressants which make them show up.
Some of the side effects are common to most types of antidepressants while others are specific to a certain combination of drugs.
The side effects and the extent to which affect the individuals using them for treatment significantly depend on the prior medical history of the patient, the age of the patient, weight group and the genetic make-up of the patient.
8 Short Term Side Effects of SSRI Anti-Depressants
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs are the most popularly used and recommended the type of antidepressants currently used for treatment. Side effects due to the usage of this drug are a certainty and most doctors will inform the patient about the possible common side effects of using this form of antidepressants for treatment.
Sleep disorders are the most common side effect which shows up due to the usage of SSRI antidepressants. Sleep disorders also show as a side effect of using most other types of antidepressant drugs. Changes in the sleep cycle showing up within the preliminary phase of the treatment are a sign that the side effect has manifested itself in the patient. Patients often complain about not being able to sleep and that they have started suffering from insomnia after they started taking SSRI medication. There are multiple cases of patients who were unable to stay asleep or were easily waking up even if they did manage to fall asleep. Restless sleep is also a very common side effect when using these antidepressants.
The patients suffering from the above side effects were also affected by “daytime sleepiness”. This, in some cases, was a joint effect of the antidepressant and the other sleeping disorders like insomnia and restless sleep. The patient being unable to get a good night’s sleep keeps tired throughout the day and the drowsiness caused by the sedating quality of the antidepressant medicine amplifies the effect.
Patients suffering from depression are highly susceptible to migraines. The usage of antidepressants can amplify the pain and influence the frequency of the migraines. The medication taken by the patients for dealing with migraines called triptans and the antidepressant drug both affect the serotonin level in the brain by increasing it in quantity.
The higher levels of serotonin in the brain can cause significant damage to the patient’s body and hamper their ability to function properly by triggering flushing, bringing about a rise in the patient’s heart rate and frequent headaches apart from the migraines acting up every now and then.
Fluctuations in Weight
One of the most common and known side effects of using antidepressants for treatment is fluctuations in weight the extent and type of fluctuation depending on the lifestyle of the patient, their age and the genetic makeup of the individual using the drug.
This side effect is also the most common reason why a lot of the patients who have been prescribed antidepressants medication by their doctor’s stop taking the drug or demand that they are prescribed a different drug for their treatment. It is rather obvious that weight gain or loss even as a side effect of medication won’t be noticeable in the early phases of the treatment, it is a side effect which comes to notice only after repetitive usage for a relatively prolonged period of time, it’s a slow process and hard to make out early on.
The probability of a patient gaining or looking weight depends on the combination of drugs used in the medicine they have been prescribed. A common antidepressant Paroxetine hydrochloride which is popularly called Paxil is one of the drugs which is known to cause patients to gain up to 7 percent of their own body weight, this tendency is seen in almost 25 percent of all the patients using Paxil.
On the other end of the spectrum is another antidepressant drug called Bupropion or as it is commonly called Wellbutrin is a cause of weight loss in the patients using it for an elongated time period.
Hyponatremia is another side effect of using antidepressant drugs which is essentially is a fall in sodium levels of the patient. This side effect is mostly seen in elderly patients, leading to an abnormal fluid build-up within the cells of the patient and is potentially a lethal condition. This side effect mainly occurs when the antidepressant drugs react with and hampers the effect of a hormone which is responsible for maintaining the sodium levels and also the fluid level in the body, it becomes fairly dangerous when this side effects affect an elderly patient as after a certain age has passed it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to regulate fluid levels naturally, the use of antidepressants make matters worse for the patient.
Patients affected by this side effect will show certain symptoms such as regular muscle pain, a sudden loss of appetite, higher frequency of headaches and also confusion. In more severe cases the patient will experience fatigue, will frequently feel disoriented, a general feeling agitation, some patents may even experience episodes of psychosis and others may suffer from mild or chronic seizures.
There exist a significant number of cases where hyponatraemia has caused respiratory issues to the extent where the patient is unable to breathe and the condition can also induce a coma.
Serotonin Syndrome can be explained by an abnormally high level of serotonin in the brain. It is one the more uncommon side effects experienced by the patients using antidepressants but it are also one of the most dangerous and potentially lethal side effects of antidepressant drugs. The condition mainly shows itself after continuous use of the drugs such as SSRIs, which affect the serotonin levels in the brain, the major function of these drugs is to bring about a rise in the serotonin level which in turn is known to help to treat depression. It is important to understand that a rise in serotonin may help the patient feel better but the abnormal rise in serotonin can cause severe effects on both the mind and body of the individual. A usual trigger for such a condition is taking a combination of 2 or more drugs all of which bring about a rise in serotonin levels in the brain. Such as 2 or more antidepressants together or with St. John’s wort.
There can severe consequences of Serotonin syndrome, the symptoms for identifying it include a frequent feeling of confusion, higher and more frequent agitation, sudden muscle twitching, abnormal sweating or shivering and the worst of all the symptoms is diarrhea.
These symptoms are early signs that the patient is suffering from Serotonin syndrome. The effects of the more severe cases of serotonin syndrome are much less tolerable and if not kept in check can potentially kill the patient.
Patients will experience abnormally high fever, seizures or fit at irregular intervals, fluctuating or irregular heartbeat commonly called arrhythmia and sudden episodes of unconsciousness. It is not much difficult to notice why the syndrome is one of the more dangerous side effects using antidepressants.
A less talked about side effect of antidepressants is the potentially life-threatening effect the drug has on the liver. To begin with, there multiple examples of cases where SSRI antidepressants have caused reversible damage on the patient’s liver when the drugs were no longer continued by the doctors or the patient the drugs which responsible for this are venlafaxine, citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, mirtazapine, and fluvoxamine.
The more lethal side effect is “hepatotoxicity” which can potentially kill the patient if the use of SSRI antidepressants is not discontinued immediately after the condition has been identified. The extent to which the liver may be affected or the severity of hepatotoxicity varies in the case of each patient, depending on pre-existing medical conditions and other medication the patient is taking there are cases of cirrhosis and liver infections which can get amplified or in extremely rare cases triggered by antidepressants induced hepatotoxicity.
Common SSRI antidepressants which have been known to be a cause of this condition are duloxetine, bupropion, trazodone, nefazodone, and sertraline.
It is absolutely necessary to regularly monitor the patients liver function tests for early diagnosis and treatment of hepatotoxicity as the damage caused by this condition to the liver is in almost all cases reversible when identified at an early stage.
What are the Long Term Side Effects of Anti-Depressants?
The often ignored and disregarded side effects of prolonged usage of antidepressants are the long-term effects it has on the mind and body of the patient over a course of years and even in cases where the patient’s treatment had been dubbed successful.
The reasons for this kind of behavior and disregard for health concerns can be much too varied in nature to be addressed in full thorough the common understanding would be that the medical community is much too satisfied with the fast-paced and short-term results which the usage of antidepressants in the treatment of depression bring forward.
Multiple medical journals and data collected through research tend to show that a significant portion of the patients who underwent treatment for moderate or major depression and were prescribed some form of an antidepressant drug have even after supposed recovery seen themselves relapse into depression.
The number of relapses has significantly gone up since the introduction of antidepressant drugs back in 1987. It is seen that a relatively large portion of the patients using antidepressant drugs to be able to function in daily life develop a dependency which leads to addiction and might be a probable cause for the increase in relapses.
The patient is caught in a limbo of relapses while developing a dependency on the antidepressant drugs to be able to function which though gives short-term relief to the patient but is unable to act as a cure for the condition.
The repeated usage of the antidepressant drugs reduces the body’s natural ability to heal itself without external ailments. The process through slow has substantial statistical evidence to show that the results are mostly permanent in a majority of cases where the number of relapses were significantly lower than the rate of relapses post the 1987 antidepressant phenomenon.
There have been multiple arguments placed by researchers in defense of the antidepressant drugs and challenging their relation to the relapse but there exists no substantial evidence to establish either side to establish their findings beyond a point of critique.