4 Questions to Ask When Taking Antidepressants

Antidepressants are prescription medications designed to help stabilize your mood. You can take them to treat depression and related problems, such as severe anxiety.

They work by correcting chemical imbalances in your brain. As the chemical levels stabilize, your moods also stabilize. When successful, taking antidepressants helps you maintain a healthy emotional state so you can lead a more productive and happier life.

Antidepressants are not over-the-counter medications. Your doctor must prescribe them to you for several reasons. For one, they can have dangerous side effects. Therefore, he or she must monitor your use of them closely. Another is it may take some time to pinpoint the correct type and dosage of antidepressant medication you need. When you initially talk to your doctor about your antidepressant treatment options, you must make sure you learn about how antidepressants are likely to affect you. Here are four questions to ask when taking antidepressants to help you understand how taking antidepressants can affect you and what to expect during treatment.

Do I need antidepressants and, if so, which antidepressant medication is right for me?

The most important question to ask your doctor before you take antidepressants is if they are even necessary. Ask the doctor to give you a complete exam and discuss any other medical issues you have that could cause your depression. For example, certain vitamin deficiencies can cause changes in your mood. If you have allergies, then histamines in your body may also contribute to depression. Treating such medical problems may be enough to rid you of depression without the need for an antidepressant prescription.

If your doctor says you do need antidepressant medication, then the next step is choosing a medication to take. Depression medications come in many categories. Some examples include the following:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)Your doctor is likely to prescribe SSRIs, such as sertraline or paroxetine, to treat your depression at first. They are common starter medications to treat depression because they do not have side effect risks as serious as those potentially caused by other antidepressants.
  • Tricyclic AntidepressantsTricyclic antidepressants, such as desipramine, are often prescribed if SSRIs are not effective for treating depression. They can cause more serious side effects than SSRIs.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) Your doctor may prescribe MAOIs, such as phenelzine, to treat your depression as a last resort. The potentially serious side effect risks of MAOIs make them more likely to be prescribed only when other medications fail to ease your depression.

How long must I take antidepressants?

While you may think it is important to ask your doctor how long you are required to take the medication, you must understand he or she cannot give you an exact answer. The most he or she is likely to tell you at first is to expect to be on antidepressants for a minimum of several weeks. It takes that long for most antidepressant medications to stabilize the chemicals in the brain. He or she must monitor your progress during that time to see if the antidepressants are working.

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After the initial acclimation period, your doctor must assess you to see if the antidepressants are working. If so, then he or she may ask you if you are experiencing any side effects. If the antidepressants are working to stabilize your mood and the side effects are minimal, then he or she may recommend continued use. However, there are many other factors that can also influence when he or she deems you ready to reduce your antidepressant usage. Those factors include:

  • How severe your symptoms are when you start taking antidepressants.
  • If the antidepressants eventually appear to be alleviating your symptoms.
  • How much side effects associated with your antidepressants are affecting you.
  • Your history of depression or related disorders.

What are the specific side effects I can expect when taking antidepressants?

You must discuss the specific side effects of any antidepressant medications your doctor recommends before agreeing to take those medications. The potential side effects of antidepressants vary by category. The side effects of SSRIs and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) are similar. For example, both can cause nausea and headaches. Tricyclic antidepressant side effects are different and often more severe. They include the following:

  • Gaining weight
  • Bladder ailments
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness and blurry vision
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Heart rate increase

Your physical health may influence your likelihood to experience certain side effects. The doctor who prescribes your antidepressants can work with you to minimize your side effect risks. He or she can discuss your risk factors with you while trying to find the right antidepressant type and dosage for you to take. The process may involve changing your medications a few times. You can also help yourself minimize antidepressant side effects by modifying your behavior. For example, you must not drink alcohol when taking antidepressants. Doing so minimizes their effectiveness while increasing side effect risks.

When can I stop taking antidepressants?

One of the most common problems you can experience when taking antidepressants is stopping antidepressant usage too early. You may experience the temptation to stop taking your medication as soon as you feel better, but you must resist the urge. Feeling better is a sign the antidepressants are working properly. However, they only work effectively while you are taking them. If you stop taking them quickly without the supervision of your doctor, then your depression can return quickly.

If you have a long-term history or family history of depression, then your doctor may recommend you take anti-depressants continuously for a long period of time. Short-term depression, such as after a divorce or other temporary traumatic event, does not require lengthy treatment. However, both situations require a gradual reduction in medication. It is possible to safely stop taking antidepressants only under the supervision of your doctor. He or she can gradually lower your dosage over time, continuously monitoring your progress in the process.

A gradual antidepressant reduction is important because your body must adapt to the change slowly to keep your depression from returning. It can also take extra time for the medication to work effectively, even after your mood improves. Your doctor can help you make that determination. After you have stopped taking the antidepressants, the doctor must continue to monitor you to make sure your depression does not return.

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