Common Side Effects of Sertraline

This PsycholoGenie article describes the common side effects of sertraline, an antidepressant drug, that is used to treat mental disorders.
PsycholoGenie Staff
The drug sertraline belongs to the group of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). As the term suggests, it is a drug which inhibits the action of the neurotransmitter serotonin produced by the nerve cells in the brain and the nervous system. Neurotransmitters are actually chemicals which enable nerve cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters, which is directly related to mental health. It is believed that an imbalance in the chemicals, (either too much or too little of a neurotransmitter) can affect a person's mental state. Sertraline is used to treat chemical imbalances which cause depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. It helps to prevent suicidal thoughts, which is a major fallout of most mental disorders.
In the year 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of sertraline for treating adults, and in 2002, extended its approval for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in children over the age of six.
Side Effects of Sertraline
This drug is known to have some severe side effects, with recorded instances of even death. Several medical practitioners have concluded that sertraline can cause agitation, and generally non-aggressive individuals may start exhibiting aggressive behavior, which would be out of character for them. Following are some of the known side effects:
It can cause insomnia, dizziness, tiredness, or drowsiness.
Akathisia, which means, agitation, restlessness, nervousness, and inability to stay still was observed in some of the patients who were using this drug.
Gastrointestinal complications such as nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and dyspepsia have also been experienced by sertraline users.
Weight gain has been observed in some of the females. The drug can lead to changes in the appetite and weight.
It is known to cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes, hives, swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat and difficulty in breathing.
The use of this drug during pregnancy increases the odds of birth defects in the infant. Sertraline, if taken during pregnancy, can cause heart defects or serious lung problems in a newborn. Though the effects are not yet properly established, lactating women may pass small amounts of sertraline (less than 2mg/day) to their babies.
Both women and men have experienced difficulty in achieving orgasm and arousal disorder.
The drug is known to cause irregular heartbeats and dry mouth.
Sertraline consumption can result in inability to sit still, muscle spasms, nosebleeds, and unusual secretion of milk (in women).
The drug should be used cautiously when taken in combination with any monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) class drugs, as they increase the risk of fluctuations in blood pressure, rigidity of muscles, hyperthermia (high fever), shivering, and almost all the side effects mentioned above.
Some of the severe side effects of sertraline include very stiff muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, tremors, hallucinations, fainting, and seizures.
Serious side effects of the drug include worsened depression/other psychiatric conditions and strange behavioral changes (including possible suicidal thoughts/attempts).
Sertraline Withdrawal
When this antidepressant is abruptly discontinued, people experience a discontinuation syndrome or withdrawal symptoms, which include anxiety, agitation, irritability, fatigue, nausea or dizziness, myalgia (muscle pain), sweating, insomnia, blurred vision, hallucinations, tingling or electric shock sensations, etc. Some people may experience minimal withdrawal symptoms, which sometimes can be misinterpreted as symptoms of flu. These generally last for one or two weeks, and decrease gradually. Therefore, sertraline dose should be gradually decreased under medical supervision.
Precautions for Using Sertraline
Side effects of this antidepressant drug limit your reasoning and response time. While on this medication, it's best to avoid drinking alcohol, driving unattended, and consuming other medicines that have sedatives in them. These are a few precautionary measures one can take, to decrease unwanted effects.
Avoid taking sertraline if you have used an MAO inhibitor. Follow the instructions of your doctor regarding the dosage and period of sertraline consumption strictly. And report any new or worsening symptoms to your doctor immediately.
Any antidepressant, including sertraline, must be taken only for clinical reasons, and strictly on the advice of a reputed psychiatrist. Care should be taken to avoid self-medication, as it could result in worsening the patient's condition.