Coping With the Side Effects of Antidepressants

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Antidepressant medications can reduce feelings of low mood in people with depression, but they also can present new issues. Common antidepressant side effects include weight gain, sleepiness, anxiety, and decreased sex drive. In fact, many people express concern about the sexual side effects of antidepressants, including low libido and erectile dysfunction.

These types of side effects do not affect everyone who takes an antidepressant medication, and even if someone you know experienced a particular side effect from a specific medication, it does not mean you will experience the same thing. If you experience antidepressant side effects, you can adopt some coping strategies to reap the benefits of the medication, while reducing its unwanted effects.

Ask questions about antidepressants before starting therapy.

If your doctor suggests you take an antidepressant, it’s wise to ask questions about side effects before you begin therapy. Some medications are more likely to cause certain side effects than others. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are more likely to cause sexual side effects than atypical antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin) and vortioxetine (Trintellix).

Ask your doctor:

  • Does this antidepressant generally cause gastrointestinal side effects like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea?

  • How might this medication affect my sleep pattern?

  • If I experience side effects, are they likely to get better over time or will I have antidepressant side effects long-term?

  • Is this medicine associated with sexual side effects? What might I experience, and what do you recommend for the problem?

  • Is this medicine likely to make me gain weight? How can I manage that?

  • What are the potential long-term side effects of this antidepressant?

By asking questions, you can receive crucial feedback from your healthcare provider to inform your decision about whether or not to take an antidepressant—and which one to choose.

Report antidepressant side effects.

Most antidepressant medication takes some time to reach full effect in your body. Your doctor can explain how long it might take before you begin noticing a change in your depression symptoms or experiencing side effects. She can also tell you how long side effects last. Some go away within a few weeks, while others may last longer.

If you experience side effects that you feel are caused by your antidepressant medication, report these to your healthcare provider right away. But, do not stop taking your medicine. Abruptly discontinuing an antidepressant medicine can cause severe side effects, including suicidal thoughts. If you experience thoughts of harming yourself or others at any time, call 911.

Make adjustments for antidepressant sexual and other side effects.

For many people, the benefits of taking an antidepressant outweigh side effects, but there are a few actions that can make side effects more manageable.

Try these strategies:

  • Take your medicine with a meal or healthy snack, unless otherwise directed. Many antidepressant medications can be taken with food, and this strategy can relieve gastrointestinal side effects.

  • Take your medicine at a different time of day. If it makes you sleepy, take it in the evening.

  • Change your sexual routine. If your medication causes delayed arousal, for example, try incorporating longer periods of foreplay. If the antidepressant causes vaginal dryness, use a lubricating gel.

  • Discuss a change of dosage or medicine. If you are having a hard time dealing with some of the side effects, talk with your doctor about changing your dosage or taking another medicine altogether.

  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated not only helps the medicine work better but can alleviate side effects like dry mouth and constipation. There are many inexpensive remedies for dry mouth and constipation.

  • Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity naturally improves mood, and increasing your activity level can help you cope with the common antidepressant side effect of weight gain. Simply going for a walk can help.

  • Ask for weight management help. If you gain weight while taking an antidepressant, consider consulting a dietitian or nutrition expert.

  • Practice stress reduction. Attending yoga classes, meditating, or getting regular massages can help reduce anxiety or restlessness caused by antidepressants (and depression itself).

Studies show people respond differently to antidepressants (and other medicines) based on their genetic makeup. Genetic lab tests are available to help patients figure out what antidepressants may be more effective for them. If the strategies above are not helping you manage antidepressant side effects long-term, consider one of these tests. Ask your doctor to recommend a reputable testing company. (These tests are not likely to be covered by health insurance.)
Antidepressant medicines help millions of people live happier, more productive lives with depression. If you frequently feel sad or hopeless, you’ve lost interest in pleasurable activities, or you experience thoughts of harming yourself, seek a medical evaluation for depression. Medication therapy might quickly restore your enjoyment of life again.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 1
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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