Depression, a mental illness marked by feelings of sadness, hopelessness and lethargy, can be treated in a variety of ways. One method of treating depression is with prescription antidepressant medications.
The best antidepressants are often successful at relieving symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, insomnia and impaired concentration. They also boost mood by acting on specific brain chemicals associated with depression.
What to Expect
When taking antidepressants, side effects may occur. The severity of these side effects varies due to both the type of antidepressant medication and an individual’s response to the drug. In many cases, particularly with mild antidepressants, side effects only last for a few weeks and then clear up. Other times, however, side effects may linger throughout the course of treatment.
If you experience an antidepressant’s side effects, discuss the symptoms with your doctor. Doctors recommend against reducing the dosage yourself or discontinuing use of antidepressant medications. Doing so could cause these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms:
- Aches and pains
- Crying spells
Types of Antidepressant Medications
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants fall into three groups:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
The newest family of antidepressant medications, SSRIs boost levels of serotonin (a chemical that affects mood) in the brain. Many people consider these to be the best antidepressants because they have milder side effects than other medications.
TCAs and MAOIs are older classes of antidepressant medications, which also affect serotonin levels, but can affect other brain chemicals as well. Because of this, they are often recommended only if SSRIs doesn’t work. Since they have a more widespread effect on neurotransmitters, TCAs and MAOIs can cause more severe side effects than SSRIs do.
Antidepressants’ Side Effects
Common SSRI side effects include:
- Antidepressant weight loss
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep problems.
Side effects of TCAs include:
- Blurred vision
- Disorientation or confusion
- Dry mouth
- Impaired sexual functioning
- Increased appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Urinary retention
- Weight gain.
MAOIs have many of the same side effects as TCAs. Additionally, since MAOIs inhibit the clearing of a chemical in the brain called tyramine that affects blood pressure, people taking these antidepressant medications must follow very strict diets. Certain foods, like smoked meats or aged cheeses can cause a sudden, potentially fatal spike of tyramine in the brain.
MAOIs can also cause:
- Increased sweating
- Muscle twitching
- Sleep disturbances
- Stomach upset.
Despite the potential for side effects, the benefits of antidepressant medication often make them the preferred course of treatment for depression. Talk with your doctor to determine the best antidepressant medication for you.
Mayo Clinic. (2008). Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antidepressants/hq01069.