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The seven most common side effects of antidepressants

Antidepressants are a key tool in the fight against depression, but from migraines to insomnia, they can bring some unpleasant side effects.

Antidepressants are known to cause a variety of side effects, many of which can be quite unpleasant. While a lot of these clear up after a few weeks, there are a few that stick around, causing the person to think seriously about stopping their treatment.

So, if you are experiencing undesirable side effects, you should be aware that, as tempted as you might feel to stop treatment, doing so would probably cause your depressive symptoms to return – and sometimes even worse than before. In addition, going cold turkey can lead to some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms, which is why we recommend consulting with your doctor before suspending treatment. In this article we will explain seven of the most common side effects associated with antidepressants.

Night-time insomnia and day-time drowsiness

Developing a sleeping disorder is one of the most common side effects associated with antidepressants, especially towards the start of the treatment. Antidepressants have been known to cause insomnia, sleepwalking and nightmares. This (combined with the sedative effects of the drugs themselves) can lead to day-time drowsiness, which can have a knock-on effect on your ability to concentrate. This means you should be extremely careful when driving or operating machinery.

Physical symptoms

Antidepressants have been linked to a wide range of physical side effects. These include headaches, muscle and joint pain, nausea, skin rashes, diarrhoea and constipation. With the exception of headaches and nausea, these side effects are relatively rare and generally short-lived.

Agitation and anxiety

Feeling energised and full of life is a good thing (and a sign that the treatment is working). However, in a few unfortunate cases this can develop into a constant state of euphoria, where the person is permanently nervous or on edge. If this is true in your case, you should consult with your doctor immediately as these symptoms could indicate the early stages of a manic episode. 

Migraines

People who are prone to migraines should take particular care when taking antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine or citalopram. Both SSRIs and triptans (the drugs used to treat migraines) raise serotonin levels in the brain. Taking both at the same time can lead to serotonin syndrome - causing tachycardia, severe headaches and flushing.

Weight gain

Antidepressants (as with many other psychotropic drugs) frequently cause weight gain. This is the main reason people (especially women) decide to suspend treatment. A balanced diet and physical exercise should help keep this under control. If this doesn’t work, however, your doctor may well suggest switching to another antidepressant, as some antidepressants are known to aggravate the condition more than others. Paroxetine, for example, has been shown to cause a BMI increase of at least 7% in one in four people. 

The weight gain, accompanied by the changes in sleeping pattern we’ve already discussed, could explain the increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes that has been associated with prolonged use of this particular medication.

Sexual dysfunction

Loss of libido is one of the most common long-term side effects associated with antidepressants. As with other psychotropics (like antipsychotics, SSRIs and other medications used to treat depression), they can cause delayed ejaculation in men and stop women from achieving orgasm. This particular problem is serious as it can affect a person’s self-esteem and lead to relationship problems. Fortunately there are several ways to deal with it, which is why we highly recommend talking things through with your GP before discontinuing treatment.

Suicide

Paradoxically several studies have shown that people taking antidepressants are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts or the desire to self-harm as those taking the placebo. A possible explanation for this could be that antidepressants give the person the energy they need to articulate plans that were previously only fleeting thoughts. Individuals under the age of 25 are more likely to experience this particular side effect. The risk of children and adolescents experiencing suicidal thoughts is estimated at between 2 and 4%.


Depression, Treatment, Symptoms, Medication, Diet, Exercise

Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist

Last Modification: November 4, 2016

© People Who Global, iStock.com

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