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Depression: Taking Antidepressants Safely

Depression: Taking Antidepressants Safely

Introduction

If your doctor has prescribed antidepressants, there are some important things you need to know about how to take them. Following these guidelines can reduce problems and help you get the most benefit from your medicine.

  • Antidepressants work best when you take them exactly as your doctor prescribes them. This also helps reduce side effects.
  • You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start to take an antidepressant. If you have not improved at all in 3 weeks, your doctor may increase your dose or have you try a different medicine.
  • Antidepressants can cause side effects, but most of them are mild and go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.
  • Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again.
  • Be sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have and any medicines you take regularly. This information can affect which antidepressant your doctor prescribes for you.
  • Quitting antidepressants suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms or cause depression to return. If you are having a problem with your medicine or are ready to quit taking antidepressants, work with your doctor to slowly reduce the dose over a period of a few weeks.
 

Antidepressants help restore the normal balance of brain chemicals. When these brain chemicals are in balance, your depression gets better.

Be sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have and any medicines you take regularly. This information can affect which antidepressant your doctor prescribes for you.

There are many antidepressant medicines, and they affect brain chemistry in different ways. The first medicine you take may help you feel better. Or you might need to try a few medicines before you find the one that works best for you.

You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start to take an antidepressant. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have not improved at all after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. He or she may increase your dose or have you try a different medicine.

Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.

Side effects

Side effects may vary depending on the medicine you take, but common ones include stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, feeling anxious or on edge, sleep problems, drowsiness, loss of sexual desire, and headaches.

Most side effects are mild and will go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.

Risks

If your child is taking antidepressants, make sure to tell your child's doctor about any family history of bipolar disorder and to watch your child closely for signs of manic behavior. Some people who are first diagnosed with depression turn out to have bipolar disorder, which causes mood swings from depression to mania. A first episode of mania can happen on its own, but it can also be triggered by certain medicines, including antidepressants.

Women who take an SSRI during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. But not treating depression can also cause problems during pregnancy and birth. If you are pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of taking an SSRI against the risks of not treating depression.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. Talk to your doctor about these possible side effects and the warning signs of suicide.

Still, for people who are depressed, the benefits of antidepressants are probably greater than the risks. By relieving depression, antidepressants may actually reduce the risk of suicide in the long run.

Test Your Knowledge

As soon as you start to feel better, you can slowly reduce how much medicine you take.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months (as prescribed) after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months (as prescribed) after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Antidepressants are very good at treating depression. Keep the following in mind when you take antidepressants:

  • If you take your medicine as prescribed and give it time to work, you may begin to feel much better.
  • If you don't take your medicine as prescribed, it is less likely to help you.
  • If you don't keep taking it for at least 6 months after you feel better, it is more likely that depression will return. At least half of people with depression have a relapse.

Test Your Knowledge

Antidepressants work best when you take them exactly as prescribed.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Antidepressants are very good at treating depression. But if you don't take your medicine as prescribed, it is less likely to help you.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Antidepressants are very good at treating depression. But if you don't take your medicine as prescribed, it is less likely to help you.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Learn about your medicine

To get the best results from an antidepressant medicine, you need to take it just as prescribed. Be sure you know:

  • The name and dose of your medicine.
  • How often you need to take it.
  • How to take it. For example, should you take it with a meal or just with a glass of water?
  • What to do if you miss a dose. Should you take it when you remember, or should you wait for the next dose?

When you pick up your medicine at the drugstore, read the information sheet that comes with it. This will list the side effects and other important facts. If there is anything you don't understand, ask the pharmacist to explain it.

Take it as prescribed

  • Try to take your medicine at the same time each day so you get in the habit.
  • Use a pillbox that holds a week's worth of pills. This can help prevent overdose.
  • If you have not improved at all after taking your medicine for 3 weeks, tell your doctor. You may need to try a different antidepressant.
  • Take your medicine for as long as your doctor says to. Don't stop taking it just because you start to feel better.
  • When it is time to quit taking antidepressants, work closely with your doctor. You will need to slowly reduce the dose over a period of a few weeks. Quitting suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms or cause depression to return.

Know what to avoid

  • Do not take any new medicines without talking to your doctor first. Even common medicines such as aspirin and some vitamins and herbs can cause problems if you use them while you are taking antidepressants.
  • Do not drink alcohol. It can make the side effects worse.

Know about the side effects

Do not stop taking your medicine if you have mild side effects. They will most likely go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.

If the side effects bother you, talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe a different medicine or suggest ways to manage your side effects.

Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Dealing With Medicine Side Effects

Call your doctor right away if you or anyone who takes antidepressants has any serious side effects, such as:

  • Chest pain.
  • Hives, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, or other signs of a serious allergic reaction .
  • Warning signs of suicide, such as talking or writing about death, giving away belongings, or withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Manic behavior , such as having very high energy, sleeping less than normal, being impulsive, or being grouchy or restless.

Test Your Knowledge

If you have not improved after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, you should stop taking it.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    If you have not improved after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, you should call your doctor. You may need a different medicine. But in the meantime, keep taking the medicine. Stopping suddenly could cause problems.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    If you have not improved after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, you should call your doctor. You may need a different medicine. But in the meantime, keep taking the medicine. Stopping suddenly could cause problems.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you know more about how to take antidepressants wisely.

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes on the pages where you have questions.

Return to topic:

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised January 11, 2013

Last Revised: January 11, 2013

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