Antidepressants have come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1950s. In the early days, antidepressants were broad-spectrum drugs that affected multiple brain chemicals at once. While they did make patients feel better, there were also a lot of side effects, they were not always consistently effective, and there was also high risk of overdose.
Today’s antidepressants are much more sophisticated in that they target specific brain chemicals that are believed to be responsible for major depressive disorder. As a result they are more effective and there is a much lower risk of overdose. However, despite these advances, antidepressants still produce side effects.
What are the side effects of antidepressants?
Antidepressant side effects very depending on the type of drug, however the most common side effects include:
- Sleep disturbances;
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, or upset stomach;
- Dry mouth; and
- Blurred or double vision.
What causes these side effects?
There are several factors that can cause antidepressant side effects. Some of the side effects are the result of the changes to your brain chemistry caused by the active ingredient in the drug. As certain neurotransmitter levels rise, your brain has to get used to the change which can make you drowsy and/or disrupt your sleep patterns. The effect of the antidepressants on your brain chemistry can also affect other functions that are controlled by the brain, such as your heart rate and blood pressure, or even the moisture balance in your body. Other side effects are the result of the drug components as they pass through your gastrointestinal tract.
Many of the side effects occur during the first few weeks, and disappear once your body gets used to the drug. They may also recur if you have to increase your dosage, or if your doctor prescribes an additional drug. Once you reach therapeutic levels, many of the side effects should resolve. Unfortunately this process can take several weeks, and even several months – during which time some of the side effects can be just as disruptive as the depression they’re designed to treat. Because of this many patients stop taking antidepressants, which can have dangerous consequences.
Below are some tips for coping with the side effects of antidepressants, so that you can make it over the rough patches and get the treatment that you need.
Keep a journal.
Keeping a journal serves two purposes:
- It gives you concrete information that you can share with your doctor in terms of how the drugs make you feel both emotionally and physically; and
- It helps you see how your emotions and the side effects progress over time. You might discover that by the seventh day your side effects are significantly less severe than they were on the first day, which could ease your mind about taking the drug. On the other hand, you could also discovered that your side effects have worsened, which you can use to discuss your options with your doctor.
Talk to someone.
Depression can be Isolating. When you start taking your medication, you might feel that you’re all alone in dealing with the side effects. Millions of people year are diagnosed with depression and start taking medication. By joining a support group of other people with depression, you can discuss your medication and side effects with others and learn about which side effects they have experienced and how they handle them. It will also ease your mind about the side effects and help you to learn what to expect from your medication.
You can also work one-on-one with your therapist. If you don’t currently have a therapist, you can get a provider list from your insurance company, and then consult an online directory and referral service like TherapyTribe.
Practical tips for coping with medication side effects.
Here are some practical tips for dealing with specific side effects. These tips might not apply to everyone, but they are good starting point for finding your own methods.
- Try taking your meds at least two hours before bedtime, so that you experience the bulk of the side effects while you are asleep;
- Some meds can be taken with food to reduce gastrointestinal upset;
- Try to take them at approximately the same time every day;
- Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, which can help with the drowsiness and dizziness;
- Consider using a sleep tracker app to monitor your sleep cycles. If you are not getting enough deep sleep cycles, consult your doctor about using a sleep supplement like melatonin;
- Drink plenty of fluids, suck on sugar-free candy, or chew sugar-free gum to combat dry mouth;
- Use moistening eye drops to combat dry eye, which can cause blurred or double vision.
Contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately if the medication causes severe nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, if your side effects worsen, or if they continue for more than four weeks.