Posted inNutrition

Uses, Types, Side Effects, Risks, & Interactions

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a group of antidepressant medications that treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. These medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin (a chemical that regulates mood and sleep) in your brain. 

SSRIs are generally considered safe and effective. However, you’ll need a prescription, typically in the form of oral pills, tablets, or liquid solutions. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin in the brain. Serotonin (sometimes called the “happy hormone”) is a brain chemical that regulates several functions, such as mood, sleep, appetite, and digestion. It also helps promote a sense of relaxation and overall well-being.

Low levels of serotonin in the brain are linked with an increased risk of depression, a mental health condition that causes prolonged feelings of sadness, worry, hopelessness, and fatigue. Because SSRIs can increase serotonin in the brain, these antidepressant medications are often an effective treatment for depression. 

However, SSRIs are also approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat additional mental health conditions, such as: 

If you’re living with any of the above conditions and think antidepressants may help you improve your symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider, as SSRIs require a prescription. It may take up to six weeks to notice the benefits of taking an SSRI. However, most people who take SSRIs use them for six months or longer. 

Additional Uses

Healthcare providers may use SSRIs to treat additional health conditions not covered by the FDA approval. This is known as off-label use. SSRIs may improve symptoms of other conditions, such as:

There are several different types of SSRIs, and they all work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain. Should you need an SSRI, common medications include:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Viibryd (vilazodone) 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are available in oral form only. They come as tablets, pills, or liquid solutions. SSRIs are not available in other forms, such as intravenously (in the veins), intramuscularly (in the muscles), inhaled (in the nose), or topically (on the skin).

If you’re taking an antidepressant, the typical dose is once daily, usually in the morning or at night. Most SSRIs can be taken with or without food. But if you have a prescription for Viibryd (vilazodone), plan to take it with a meal or snack because it may cause stomach pain. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have relatively few side effects. They’re also usually better tolerated than other types of antidepressants like serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). 

However, some side effects are possible and may include:

Side Effects in Young People

If you and your healthcare provider decide that antidepressants are a good option for you, it’s important to take some things into consideration before starting treatment.

Effects on Pregnancy

People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or considering pregnancy should talk with their healthcare providers about the possible risks of SSRIs. Paxil (paroxetine) is not safe during pregnancy because it can cause heart defects in the fetus when taken in the first trimester. 

Prolonged QT Interval

Certain SSRIs may cause a prolonged QT interval. This type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) occurs when the heart takes longer to recharge between beats. This is a serious condition that could lead to a fatal arrhythmia.

Specifically, Celexa (citalopram) may cause a prolonged QT interval. Before starting the medication, your healthcare provider may recommend assessing your heart health with an electrocardiogram (EKG) test. 

Serotonin Syndrome

SSRIs increase the amount of available serotonin in the brain. When serotonin levels rise too much, it can lead to serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a serious condition that occurs when there is too much serotonin in the brain. 

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can vary in severity and may include:

  • Mild: Nervousness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Moderate: Agitation, restlessness, muscle spasms, sweating, and shivering
  • Severe: Confusion, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, high body temperature, seizures, and fainting 

SSRIs are safe and well-tolerated in most people. However, anyone taking an SSRI with another medication that increases serotonin levels may be at a higher risk of experiencing serotonin syndrome. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk and ask if your medications need to be adjusted.

Before you start taking an SSRI, call or meet with your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you have. It’s also important to not stop taking an SSRI without discussing it with your provider first. Abruptly stopping medication can lead to several side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

If you develop any new symptoms or side effects with an SSRI, it’s also a good idea to contact your provider. Some side effects, like sleep disturbances and sexual dysfunction, are treatable. If your side effects do not improve, your provider may recommend trying a different SSRI. 

Some situations may warrant immediate medical attention. If you experience any of the following symptoms while taking an SSRI, seek support from your hospital’s emergency department or a local urgent care:

  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Agitation or confusion 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sweating or shivering 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drugs that treat depression and other mental health conditions like anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. These medications help increase serotonin in the brain, a chemical that helps regulate mood, among other functions.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, talk to your provider about taking antidepressants. While side effects like sleep disturbances and headaches are possible, SSRIs are usually safe and effective.

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