The Most Common Side Effects of Antidepressants
These days, it is not uncommon to hear about a friend or loved one starting an antidepressant. However, the question arises: are the side effects of antidepressants worth it? The prevalence of these medications in the modern world is undeniable, with a significant increase in the number of people on antidepressants in the U.S. from 7.7 percent to 12.7 percent between 1999 and 2014, representing a nearly 65 percent rise. Surprisingly, over three out of every 100 individuals state that they have been taking antidepressants for “10 years or more”.
Despite the rise in prescriptions, many patients find the side effects of antidepressants to be frustrating, prompting the consideration of whether the benefits outweigh the risks. So, what exactly is an antidepressant drug? Antidepressants belong to a class of psychoactive drugs designed to alleviate the symptoms of depression. However, their effectiveness and mechanism of action remain somewhat uncertain. These medications were developed based on the now-debunked chemical imbalance myth, which posits that mood disorders are caused by chemical imbalances.
Nevertheless, it appears that antidepressants may not be as helpful as commonly believed. Numerous physicians and researchers express concerns that the benefits of these drugs do not justify the major side effects associated with them. A review of clinical trials in 2002 indicated that the “true drug effect” of antidepressants is around 10-20 percent, suggesting that 80-90 percent of patients in these trials either responded to a placebo effect or had no response at all.
What is an antidepressant?
Antidepressants are classified into several categories, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are the most popular choice for most practitioners, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), which are considered outdated.
In 1993, the American Psychiatric Association’s practice guideline recommended the short-term use of antidepressants only. Studies on the long-term effects of these medications have rarely exceeded a two-year observational period.
The Most Common Antidepressant Side Effects
Now, let’s delve into the common side effects of antidepressants, as identified by a survey of 700 patients. The researchers found that 38 percent of patients on SSRIs reported side effects, but only 40 percent of them reported these issues to their physicians. Additionally, approximately 25 percent of patients experiencing side effects described them as “very bothersome” or “extremely bothersome”.
While these side effects may not necessarily lead to early death in most cases, they can cause significant discomfort. However, many individuals who experience these tolerability problems choose to discontinue their medication, which can result in antidepressant withdrawal symptoms and an increased risk of relapse or recurrence of the condition without proper medical supervision.
The most common and severe side effects of antidepressants include:
1. Suicidal Thoughts: Shockingly, antidepressants may cause increased suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts. Although this information was known as early as the 1980s, it took several decades for it to become public knowledge. Pharmaceutical companies admitted their awareness of this increased risk of suicide in a “Dear Healthcare Professional” letter released in May 2006. While some skeptics argue that this phenomenon is simply a result of depression itself, multiple studies suggest that SSRIs do, in fact, increase the risk of suicide beyond the mood disorder. Furthermore, discontinuing medication often alleviates these thoughts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a “black box warning” to antidepressants in 2004, initially applying to those aged 18 and younger, but later extending the age to 24 in 2007. There is some evidence suggesting that even healthy adults with no history of mental illness can develop suicidal thoughts after taking an antidepressant, indicating a need for extending this warning to people of all ages.
2. Stomach Upset: General digestive problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are extremely common with antidepressants. Nausea, in particular, is reported as the most frequent side effect of these medications (25).
3. Headache: Frequent headaches are a well-known side effect of antidepressants.
4. Restlessness: Antidepressants are often associated with “agitation” or restlessness, which can sometimes escalate to anxiety, mania, or even panic attacks.
5. Fatigue: People taking antidepressants may experience persistent feelings of tiredness, which can manifest as sleepiness, fatigue, or insomnia.
6. Sexual Dysfunction: Sexual problems, such as impotence or a lack of libido, are among the most frequently reported side effects of antidepressants. One source suggests that up to 80.3 percent of individuals on antidepressants may experience some form of sexual dysfunction.
In conclusion, while antidepressants have become increasingly prevalent in modern society, it is essential to carefully consider their side effects and weigh them against the potential benefits. Despite their popularity, doubts have been raised regarding the effectiveness of these medications, with concerns about their major side effects. It is crucial for patients to have open discussions with their healthcare professionals and explore alternative treatments or strategies for managing their mental health conditions. [Depression Prevention Method]