Side Effects of Antidepressants, Types, List, Information

Posted July 20, 2020 by Michael Chamberlain - See Editorial Guidelines

As much as people emphasize the effectiveness of antidepressants and how they help in continuing a mentally healthy lifestyle, what many people overlook are the side effects these antidepressants can bring about.

So, this article will provide a clear understanding of the various side effects of antidepressants, the side effects specific to each type of antidepressant, and much more.

To get you some quick information, let’s start with the quick list of the side effects of antidepressants, then we’ll get into more of the details.

Below are side effects specific to antidepressant treatment plans:

  • Sexual problems 
  • Pregnancy complications 
  • Suicide and suicidal feelings 
  • Allergic reactions 
  • Seizures 
  • Hypomania or mania 
  • SIADH (Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion)
  • Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome

Depression continues to be one of those common medical conditions that many people experience.

Because of this increase, different types and varieties of antidepressants continue to enter the market. Here’s a list of the most common antidepressant drugs available.

So, as this is a growing area, it’s worth exploring both the benefits of antidepressants, as well as the side effects, so you know what to expect.

With that said, let’s look at if antidepressants can cause side effects.

Can Antidepressants Cause Side Effects?

Side Effects of Antidepressants

Since the 1980s, the US has been enjoying the benefits of antidepressants. Especially antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro).

The improvement of these antidepressants has now managed to cover a range of treatments from anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, many other psychiatric conditions, and of course, depression. 

It’s likely that if a patient is diagnosed with major depressive disorder, then antidepressants would form a significant part of the treatment plan.

Antidepressants work by balancing specific chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitter chemicals are those that affect one’s mood and emotions, which are two elements that cause depression when they are unstable.

What antidepressants do is help balance these elements and “jump-start” positive moods, giving patients the boost they need to get over emotional and mood instabilities that cause depression. 

This also contributes to getting better sleep, increasing one’s appetite, and increasing energy levels, which can be difficult while in depression.

In a nutshell, taking antidepressants helps people going through depression to start doing things they enjoy and make better choices for themselves with a positive mood or mindset.

However, among these positive things antidepressant treatment plans can give, they do have potential side effects. There are many types of antidepressants, and the side effects of each can all vary from one another.

There are some types of antidepressants that have fewer side effects over others, but no antidepressant treatment is without complete risk.

Some of the side effects of antidepressants are common, while some are rare. Some carry less risk, and some have potentially fatal risks. 

It’s up to your healthcare provider to decide on whether a specific type of antidepressant prescribed will provide more benefits than side effects.

Also, it’s important to remember that depending on your individual body and other medical conditions, treatments, or medications you take, these side effects could be different.

Common Side Effects of Antidepressants 

This is not an exhaustive list, but the following are some common and general side effects of antidepressants. These are the many “potential” side effects that are experienced by the majority of people taking antidepressants.

Side Effects of Antidepressants
  • Agitation
  • Allergic Reactions 
  • Antidepressant Discontinuation Symptoms 
  • Anxiety 
  • Blurred Vision
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness 
  • Dry Mouth 
  • Fatigue and Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Hypomania or Mania 
  • Increased Appetite and Weight Gain
  • Insomnia 
  • Internal Bleeding (Especially When Taking Aspirin or Another NSAID such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen)
  • Irritability
  • Joint and Muscle Pain 
  • Loss of Sexual Desire and Other Sexual Problems
  • Nausea 
  • Loss of Antidepressant Effectiveness and Decreased Alertness 
  • Pregnancy Complications 
  • Reduced Blood Clotting 
  • Reduced Concentration 
  • Seizures 
  • Sexual Problems 
  • SIADH (Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion)
  • Skin Rashes 
  • Upset Stomach
  • Suicide And Suicidal Thoughts
  • Weight gain

Clearly, many of these side effects are common side effects experienced when taking many other types of medications. So, the following discussion will focus on the side effects that are more relevant to antidepressants only. 

Weight Gain

Weight gain is a common side effect many experience as a result of taking antidepressants. 

Although the exact reason why many put on some weight after taking antidepressants is unclear, many experts believe it’s as a result of improved metabolism and appetite.

When someone struggles with depression, they tend to lose weight. The weight loss during depression may be a result of the person losing their appetite and not having an interest in eating.

So, when taking antidepressants, a person is likely to recover their appetite. Thus, they eat more and return to their regular weight. And in the case of adults, adults tend to gain weight as they age, whether they are on antidepressants or not. 

However, this does not mean that antidepressants always cause weight gain. Those struggling with depression may gain weight if they find comfort in food or if they do not engage in physical activity.

Sexual Problems

This is yet another very common side effect of antidepressants. From reducing sexual interest, desire, performance, and satisfaction or all the above, antidepressants can cause sexual problems.

In women it can cause delayed orgasm, inability to reach orgasm, or spontaneous orgasms. Whereas, in men, it can cause reduced sexual desire, failed erection, delayed ejaculation, and lack of orgasm.

Men might also experience a side effect of priapism (prolonged erection), which is a serious condition that requires medical attention. 

Some say this side effect is reduced when the dose is lowered. But that also means the treatment may not be as effective as one expects. The patient may then lose the benefit of the medication altogether.

Another solution is adding or substituting bupropion (Wellbutrin). Bupropion is less likely to cause sexually related side effects when compared to other antidepressants. Only consider this along with your doctor’s or healthcare provider’s advice. 

Pregnancy Complications

It is crucial that you let your doctor know if you are pregnant or may become pregnant. Your doctor will then dictate which antidepressant, or other medication, is safe for you to take.

Usually, psychotherapy is seen as an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. The reason why doctors may decide to prescribe antidepressants while a woman is pregnant is for concerns around the baby’s health.

While in depression, a woman may not take care of herself with the correct amount of interest. This may result in the mother not having an appropriate diet or lifestyle that is both healthy for her and her baby.

Therefore, experiencing major depression during pregnancy can be seen as an increase in the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, decreased fetal growth, and so on, mainly brought about due to a weak appetite. This condition of depression may also lead to postpartum depression and other complications in the mother bonding with the baby. 

However, even using antidepressants is associated with high risk and potential complications to the baby.

This is why the doctor will try to reduce the exposure of the antidepressants to the baby. The doctor may also prescribe a single medication (monotherapy) at a low but effective dose in the first trimester, reducing the potential side effects to the baby.

And towards the last trimester, the baby could experience symptoms and signs of discontinuation syndrome. This includes jitters, irritability, poor feeding patterns, and even respiratory distress – for up to a month.

At this point, many often think to reduce the dosage in the final trimester, or when closer to delivering the baby, to reduce such side effects – but currently, there’s little evidence to support this.

Doing so could increase the feelings of depression in the mother.

It can also cause certain complications with nursing and breastfeeding. This mainly happens when the medications reach significant levels in breast milk, which again can be passed down to the baby. 

Suicide and Suicidal Feelings 

Antidepressants have long been associated with the cause of suicides, suicidal feelings, and similar acts of violence and self-destruction as a severe side effect.

The side effect and risk associated with antidepressants has been a continued controversial subject. First, it began in 2004, when the FDA started a black box warning on SSRI’s, a class of antidepressants.

It has also been reported as one of the strongest measures taken – short of withdrawing a drug from the market. The warning issued in 2004 is still there in all types of antidepressants that are commonly in use today.

These warnings describe and explain the possible side effects of suicidal thoughts, hostility, triggering of agitation in kids, teens, and the elderly. And strangely, it’s said that taking antidepressants could develop these thoughts as a side effect, even if a patient hasn’t felt so while going through depression.

Experts have conveyed two main reasons why this side effect could result from taking antidepressants.

1. The Ability and Increased Energy to Act Upon One’s Thoughts

When a patient is depressed or going through stages of depression, their energy and motivational levels can reduce significantly.

Therefore, the urge to act on their thoughts is reduced, which is why many lose their appetite and grow weaker. They hardly feel like eating even when they feel hungry because there is a lack of interest to act.

So, if a sufferer has suicidal thoughts because of depression, they may not act upon their thoughts because they do not have the energy or focus to do so.

What happens when a patient takes antidepressants is that it boosts their energy level, supporting the ability to act upon their thoughts. This reason aligns with the weight gain side effect too.

Therefore, the antidepressant may give an individual the ability to act upon one’s thoughts without helping them to have positive thoughts. Thus, a side effect of antidepressants is suicide.

2. Drugs Directly Causing Suicidal Thoughts

The second reason is related to the drug mechanism and how it works.

It’s believed that taking certain drugs triggers these thoughts, so that even people who may not have experienced such thoughts before taking antidepressants may feel it after starting the medication.

This direct reasoning of the drug mechanism mainly focuses on SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), but in general, all antidepressants carry similar risks.

This side effect of antidepressants largely depends on how each specific person’s body will react to the drug. Therefore, it’s advised for patients to let the prescribing clinicians immediately know if they are having suicidal thoughts.

Even if one does not have these thoughts immediately after starting antidepressants, increasing the dose or changing the type of antidepressant can bring about these side effects later. 

Allergic Reactions

Side Effects of Antidepressants

Allergic reactions are another of the common side effects of antidepressants.

This mainly happens because the patient is either allergic to the active ingredient in the antidepressant or to other secondary elements of the antidepressant, which include dyes, fillers, or other inactive ingredients of the antidepressant.

A patient can identify if they are allergic to antidepressants by being guided by symptoms such as:

  • Itchy rash
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Blisters

A severe allergic reaction could cause breathing difficulties and hamper a person’s ability to breathe. If this is the case, then it’s advised to seek immediate medical attention, particularly if a patient observes any swelling in the face. 

Seizures

Among the potential side effects of antidepressants is the increase in a person’s risk of having seizures. Sometimes these side effects, such as a seizure, can be experienced by a person who has never experienced any seizures.

There’s also an argument that not all antidepressants cause or increase the risk of seizures. Wellbutrin (bupropion) is often said to be the type of antidepressant that is more likely to trigger seizures.

Even certain older antidepressants, like tricyclics, can increase the risk of seizure. So, in general, it’s very likely that the newer and improved types of antidepressants may not have this side effect.

Some common symptoms of these seizure type side effects include:

  • Uncontrollable jerking movement (especially in the arms and legs)
  • Confusion
  • Abnormal or unusual sensations
  • Loss of concentration/consciousness/focus.

It’s important to report all seizures that you experience to the doctor, even if you’re not sure if it is one. And even if it’s the first time you’ve had this potential seizure, it has to be reported to the doctor as soon as possible.

Hypomania or Mania

Mania or hypomania is another potential side effect of antidepressants, yet not as common. It’s believed that this side effect likely stops when the antidepressant treatment is stopped.

On the other hand, many take this side effect as a sign or indication of having bipolar disorder. So, if you’re identified with such a medical condition, you’ll be given a different diagnosis and different medication to suit bipolar disorder better.

In people with bipolar disorder, taking antidepressants may trigger greater severity, where this could lead to an episode of mania. 

Symptoms of mania go from a high level of energy and activities, sleeping troubles, unusual thoughts, impulsive behavior, an increased feeling of different moods, pressured speech, irritability, grandiose thinking, and so on.

SIADH (Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion)

This is one of the rarest side effects of antidepressants. This side effect mainly comes from a few types of antidepressants, like tricyclics, SSRIs, and SNRIs.

The body produces an antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which controls the amount of water that is expelled through urine. When a patient develops SIADH as a result of antidepressants, their body begins to secrete too much antidiuretic hormones.

This will then result in the body holding up the water, making one low in sodium. This condition is called hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia may then lead to other further side effects like convulsions, confusion, hallucination, coma (loss of consciousness which may even lead to death), memory problems, and difficulties in concentrating and focusing, drowsiness, and falls (more common in older people).

Other Side Effects of Antidepressants 

Here’s a quick rundown of some other common side effects of antidepressants:

Tooth Decay

Often antidepressants can cause a dry mouth. Any type of antidepressant that causes a dry mouth can bring about tooth decay. This mostly starts showing up when a person takes antidepressants for a longer period. This side effect is most common with tricyclic antidepressants.

Decreased Alertness

Antidepressants can also cause difficulties in concentrating and makes you less alert about things happening around you. This can affect your daily lifestyle and skilled tasks, like driving.

Diabetes

Prolonged use of antidepressants can increase the risk of one developing diabetes or severing the conditions of diabetes. This side effect is more common among those who are over the age of 30 and especially with the use of SSRIs or tricyclics

Loss of Antidepressant Effectiveness

This is a side effect that’s common among any antidepressant, where the medications may lose their effectiveness over time.

This means a depressed patient may become less responsive to the drug (drug tolerance). For this, solutions, like increasing the dose, or limiting the dose for a short period where applicable, or switching to another type of antidepressant, are all considerations taken by doctors to combat this effect. 

Antidepressant Discontinuation Symptoms

Side effects that come about when discontinuing antidepressants include, but are not limited to:

  • Tingling sensations
  • Burning sensations
  • Insomnia
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid dreams
  • Diarrhea (rare)
  • Nausea (rare)
  • Irritability (rare)
  • Crying spells (rare)
  • Anxiety (rare)
  • Flu-like symptoms (rare)

These side effects are called “discontinuation syndrome” and not “withdrawal symptoms.” This is because withdrawal is a term used for addiction and not discontinuation.

This syndrome remains mild, but they can turn severe when left untreated. 

Note – None of these types of antidepressants should be stopped without consulting your doctor or relevant physician. Especially paroxetine, which is a type of antidepressant that causes more intense discontinuation symptoms.

To Finish

We hope this has provided some background on the side effects of antidepressants. Side effects occur in many drugs and treatments. With proper medical consultation, they can be managed or even negated.

In all cases, doctors will only prescribe medication if there is a “net positive” result in prescribing it. This is why you must consult with your physician regarding any symptoms you’re experiencing, both before and after obtaining a prescription.

Being able to afford those prescriptions is another matter. If you’re struggling to afford your prescriptions, then you could use our help. At Prescription Hope, we can process a simple application towards providing your meds for just $50 per month per medication.

We work with over 180 pharmaceutical manufacturers and utilize their patient assistance programs to provide you with a flat-rate cost for your medication. Enroll with us to find out if you are eligible to pay only $50 a month for each of your medications.



ENROLL NOW LEARN MORE