Side Effects of Antidepressants

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Antidepressants are often prescribed to help patients with anxiety. As with all medications, antidepressants have certain side effects people should be aware of. For most people, these side effects are mild and short-lived. For others, however, side effects are serious enough that medication is not an option. Side effects should be taken into consideration when determining what treatment will be best for you. In addition, different antidepressants cause different side effects.

If you should have questions or concerns about side effects that you are experiencing, you should contact your physician. In addition, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts after beginning antidepressant medication or have changed your dosage, you should immediately contact your physician. All antidepressant medications have a risk of causing an increase in suicidal thoughts, agitation, aggression and impulsiveness.

Side Effects of Tricyclic Antidepressants
• Dry Mouth
• Constipation
• Difficulty urinating
• Sexual Problems
• Blurred Vision
• Dizziness
• Drowsiness
• Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
• Impaired thinking

Side Effects of SSRIs

• Sexual problems
• Headache
• Nausea
• Insomnia
• Nervousness or agitation
• Weight gain or weight loss
• Sweating
• Fatigue

• Diarrhea or constipation

Side Effects of SNRIs

• Nausea
• Headache
• Insomnia
• Tiredness
• Nervousness
• Loss of appetite
• Dry mouth
• Constipation
• Sexual Problems
• Increased cholesterol
• Elevated heart rate
• Blurred Vision

Side Effects of MAOIs

• Weakness
• Headache
• Dizziness
• Insomnia
• Weight gain
• Sexual problems
• Sexual problems

MAOIs also have dangerous interactions with other antidepressant medications, certain over the counter medications and certain foods and drinks. Foods and drinks containing tyramine can cause severe interactions and increase the chance of heart attack or stroke.

Some of the food and drink that must be avoided include:

• Beer
• Red Wine
• Cheeses: cheddar, American, bleu, brie, Parmesan, mozzarella
• Beef and chicken livers
• Cured meat
• Game meat
• Caviar
• Dried fish

If you are going to stop taking an MAOI medication and begin a new antidepressant medication, you will need to stop taking the MAOI for a period of time before beginning a different medication to give your body time to clear all traces of the MAOI medication first.

Antidepressants and Other Medications

Antidepressants can interact and change the effectiveness of other medications. It is important to discuss with your doctor all medications you may be taking, even over the counter medicines or herbal supplements.

An article in the Los Angeles Times in February, 2008, indicated that a combination of over the counter drugs, sleeping aids, other prescription drugs, herbal supplements, alcohol and antidepressants can cause many problems and sometimes even death.

Antidepressants and Suicide

The Federal Food and Drug Administration requires all depression medications to carry a warning regarding the increased risk of suicide, hostility and aggression the medicine may cause in children and adolescents. There is a current recommendation to extend this warning to include people between the ages of 18 and 24. Any person taking these medications needs to be monitored by a physician. Special care should be taken to watch for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts when dosage is changed or a new medication begins.

Some of the signs to be aware of are:

• Increased thoughts of suicide

• Increased depression

• Increased anxiety

• Insomnia

• Restlessness

• Aggressiveness or irritability

• Impulsiveness

If any of these symptoms appear suddenly or are severe, your physician should be contacted immediately.

Coping With Side Effects

Living with anxiety can be devastating and medication can be effective in relieving symptoms. Many people, however, discontinue medication because of the side effects. For most people, side effects last only a few weeks and then will disappear. However, when they are serious or do not go away, you should speak with your physician. There are ways to minimize the side effects:


• Take the antidepressant with food and drink plenty of fluids such as unsweetened fruit juice, ginger ale or water.

• Use anti-nausea medication such as Pepto-Bismol or antacids

• Try a medicine that comes in extended release, if possible

• If your nausea does not go away within a few weeks or becomes worse, contact your doctor about changing your dosage

Weight Gain

There are a number of reasons people may gain weight when taking antidepressants. It could be because your body is retaining fluid or because once you begin to feel better your appetite increases.

• Keep plenty of low calorie, healthy foods available, such as raw vegetables and fruits.

• Drink water rather than soda

• Increase your exercise to a minimum of 30 minutes a day


This side effect also normally disappears within a few weeks. If it does not, speak with your physician about possibly changing your dosage.

• Schedule taking your medication before bedtime rather than in the morning

• Include exercise in your daily routine

• Take a nap in the afternoon for the first few weeks of use


When antidepressants begin to work, you may feel better and more energized, making it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep at night

• Take medications in the morning

• Cut down on caffeine

• Include exercise in your daily routine

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a common side effect of many different antidepressants as they can reduce the amount of saliva your body creates.

• Use ice chips or sip on a glass of water throughout the day

• Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy

• Have regular dental checkups to avoid and prevent tooth decay

• Brush your teeth at least twice a day

Blurred Vision

If blurred vision does not go away within a few weeks, you should talk with your doctor about possibly adjusting the dosage of medicine.

• Check with an eye doctor to make sure there are no underlying problems

• Ask your doctor about eye drops that can reduce dryness


This is most often a side effect of tricyclic medications.

• Drink plenty of water, at least six to eight glasses per day

• Eat foods high in fiber

• Add exercise to your daily routine

• Talk with your doctor about adding fiber supplements to your diet


Dizziness can be caused by low blood pressure and is seen more often when using tricyclic or MAOIs. During the first few weeks, avoid operating machinery or driving until dizziness goes away

• Reduce caffeine intake

• Do not drink alcohol

• Drink plenty of fluids

• Stand up slowly

Increased anxiety or agitation

Antidepressants can cause increased anxiety. If this side effect becomes severe, speak with your physician.

• Add exercise to your daily routine

• Use deep breathing techniques to provide relaxation

Sexual Problems

SSRIs can cause delayed or inability to achieve orgasm. Tricyclics can cause erectile dysfunction.

• Take medication at night, after sexual activity

• Discuss with your doctor the possibility of not taking medication one day per week, changing dosage or adding a medication for sexual dysfunction

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.