Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

medication info

This is the most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. Chances are, if you go to your family doctor and say you are depressed, they will prescribe you an SSRI. Other types of antidepressants are usually given if SSRIs don’t seem to help.

Why are SSRIs the default choice? On average, SSRIs are at least as effective as most other antidepressants, and they have less side effects [1]. Each medication effects each person differently, so SSRIs don’t work for everyone—but they’re a good starting point.

“Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” is a fancy way of saying that SSRIs boost the serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical in your brain) that affects your mood. They are used to treat many conditions, including [2]:

How do I take an SSRI?

SSRIs must be taken every day. It usually takes several weeks before you feel the full effect. Taking a single pill won’t stop a panic attack, for example—but taking it daily may decrease your chances of having a panic attack in the future [3].

You might be tempted to stop taking them as soon as you feel better, thinking that you’ve been cured. Unfortunately, antidepressants are not a cure for depression—they are a way of managing it, not a way of making it go away forever. If you stop taking your antidepressant as soon as you feel better, you will likely go back to being depressed.

If you do decide to stop taking an antidepressant, it’s best to talk to your doctor first. Your doctor can help you reduce the dosage gradually, which will reduce withdrawal symptoms. (You can often do this by cutting your tablets in half for a few weeks, then into fourths for a few more weeks.) They may also help you find an alternative that has fewer side effects or is more effective.

Examples of SSRIs

Even though all SSRIs work in similar ways, they each have slightly different effects. So if one doesn’t work for you, another might. If you’ve tried multiple SSRIs and none of them work well—or they all give you side effects—it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about taking a different type of antidepressant.

Generic name

Brand name(s)

Citalopram

Celexa

Escitalopram

Lexapro

Fluoxetine

Prozac, Sarafem, Symbyax

Fluvoxamine

Luvox

Paroxetine

Paxil, Pexeva

Sertraline

Zoloft

Vilazodone

Viibryd

Side effects of SSRIs

Common [1]:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Feeling anxious or agitated
  • Headache, dry mouth, or sweating
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleeping more or less than usual

Less Common [1]:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Low sex drive, or trouble achieving an erection or orgasm

References

  1. Ferguson. (2001). SSRI Antidepressant Medications: Adverse Effects and Tolerability. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 3(1), pp. 22-27. Retrieved from https://dx.doi.org/10.4088%2Fpcc.v03n0105
  2. National Health Services (NHS). (2015). “Overview: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).” NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssri-antidepressants/
  3. Guilherme Graeff & Zangrossi. (2010). The Dual Role of Serotonin in Defense and the Mode of Action of Antidepressants on Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorders. Central Nervous System Agents in Medicinal Chemistry 10(3) pp. 207-217. Retrieved from https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/cnsamc/2010/00000010/00000003/art00002

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