Treatment for serotonin syndrome is determined on the basis of the symptoms of the affected person, and his/her medical history.
Serotonin is a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in the human body. It is found in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and platelets. Some of the most vital bodily functions, like sleep, muscle contractions, appetite, mood variations, memory, etc., are regulated by serotonin. So, an increase or decrease in normal serotonin levels may affect the normal functioning of the body. Variations in serotonin levels may result in mild to severe symptoms, that can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. While a low serotonin level is linked to depression, high levels of this chemical in the body causes serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin Syndrome – Causes and Symptoms
A rise in serotonin levels is usually caused by antidepressant drugs. These drugs are used for elevating serotonin levels, in people who face depression. Some people develop this condition, when they use antidepressant drugs for the first time. In case of people, who are already using these drugs, serotonin syndrome can be caused by a sudden increase in their daily dosage. However, the most common cause of serotonin syndrome is intake of more than one antidepressant, or taking an antidepressant along with other medication (like migraine medicines), herbal remedies (like St John’s wort), illicit drugs (cocaine, LSD, etc.), or dietary supplements, that can increase the levels of serotonin in the body.
The symptoms of serotonin syndrome can be mild, severe, and even life-threatening. Symptoms appear within a few minutes or hours after ingestion of the drugs. While mild symptoms include sweating, shivering, slight rise in body temperature, nausea, dilated pupils, etc., moderate ones include high blood pressure, high body temperature, mental confusion, tremors, and agitation. Severe cases of serotonin syndrome may cause symptoms, like unconsciousness, sudden rise in blood pressure and heart rate, and a high body temperature (around 106 °F). Severe symptoms may lead to life-threatening complications, like coma, renal failure, rhabdomyolysis, etc. So, immediate treatment must be provided for the affected people.
How is Serotonin Syndrome Treated
In some cases, mild symptoms of serotonin syndrome may go unnoticed, whereas in others, stopping the use of offending medicines (only as per the advice of the doctor) may provide relief from the symptoms. However, moderate to severe symptoms require immediate medical attention. The diagnosis of serotonin syndrome is usually based on the medical history of the affected person, especially, the types of drugs used by him/her. The affected person must experience at least three to four symptoms of serotonin syndrome. Apart from that, some other tests will be conducted, so as to rule out the possibility of other conditions, like intoxication, infections, drug withdrawal, etc.
- In case of mild symptoms, discontinuation of the offending drug, or decreasing its dosage may be sufficient for relief from the symptoms. However, this must be done as per the instructions of your healthcare provider.
- Moderate to severe symptoms require hospitalization, as close monitoring of the patient is required. Serotonin syndrome treatment is mainly aimed at resolving the symptoms.
- The affected person may be administered with muscle relaxants for symptoms like seizures, agitation, and muscle stiffness. Other medicines include drugs to normalize high blood pressure and rapid heart rate.
- In case of hyperthermia or heat stroke, aggressive cooling techniques, like ice packs and water sprays, will be required to bring down the high body temperature.
- Some of the severely affected patients may need medication to block the production of serotonin, so as to normalize the serotonin levels in the body.
- Treatment for serotonin syndrome includes intravenous fluids, that are used to bring down the fever, and for avoiding dehydration.
It is always better to avoid this condition by refraining from self medication. While treatment must be provided immediately for people with severe symptoms, even mild symptoms may get worse, if left untreated. So, it is always better to consult your physician, if you experience any such symptom. If you are already taking antidepressants, then avoid usage of other medication, without the consent of your physician. Others too must go through the warning labels, before taking any drugs.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.