09-24-2019 Healthcare

Treating Depression: How SSRIs Work

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting Americans. Depression can take many forms, and fortunately, it has a variety of treatment options. For many individuals therapy and medication combined is the most effective treatment.

One of the most commonly prescribed types of antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Learn more about SSRIs and how they can treat depression and other mental health disorders.

How do SSRIs work?

Simply put, SSRIs help make more serotonin available by blocking neurons from reabsorbing it. Because of this, they are known as reuptake inhibitors. While that may seem counterintuitive, this allows serotonin to build up between neurons and keep the messages moving properly. 

Fun fact: SSRIs are called “selective” because they only target serotonin. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that carries signals between neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Serotonin helps to facilitate physiological functions like sleeping, eating, digestion, and wound healing. It also helps regulate mood and anxiety. Therefore, low levels of serotonin can have a massive impact on your physical and emotional health.

While we don’t know what causes depression, serotonin deficiency is often correlated with this mood disorder. SSRIs are also used to treat other mood disorders like anxiety. They can also help people with obsessive compulsive disorders.

What are common types of SSRIs?

There are a number of SSRIs available on the market today, including: 

While all SSRIs work similarly, they each have a unique chemical makeup. So, if you are reacting poorly to one, you may have success with another. Your doctor can help determine the right medication for you. 

Get more information on these SSRIs and others through our online drug information tool.

What are some common SSRI side effects?

Like all medications, SSRIs carry a risk of side effects. Common side effects of SSRIs include: 

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Rashes
  • Dry mouth 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Agitation 
  • Dizziness
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Reduced sexual desire
  • Increased suicidal thoughts 

Importantly, when starting a new SSRI—or any medication—talk with your doctor about side effects. If you are experiencing any reaction that you think is attributed to your SSRI, call your doctor right away. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you are encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

What is serotonin syndrome?

Serotonin syndrome is a high accumulation of serotonin in the body. While cases of serotonin syndrome are rare, they are most likely to occur when two different medications that increase serotonin are combined. The symptoms range in severity, and include: 

  • Shivering 
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Confusion 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Goosebumps
  • Twitching muscles 
  • Loss of muscle agility or muscle stiffness
  • High fever
  • Rapid heart rate or irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures

The only way to diagnose serotonin syndrome is through a physical exam. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately and be sure to disclose all of the medications and supplements you’re taking.   

What should I do if I want to stop my medication?

SSRIs help many people living with depression and anxiety. It’s common for patients to want to stop their SSRI because they feel better or want to try a different treatment method. You should always contact your doctor before starting or stopping any prescription medication. Although SSRIs are not habit forming, it can be dangerous to stop taking them suddenly or miss several doses. If you stop your SSRI, you may also experience a depression relapse or symptoms that feel like depression.

While SSRIs do have risks and side effects, they can be an effective form of treatment for many people living with depression. If you’re currently taking an SSRI and want to see how much you can save on your prescription, use our drug lookup tool. You can also get the America’s Pharmacy prescription discount card to start saving right away.

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