Tips to help you manage the side effects of antidepressants

April 23, 2019 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
Side effects of antidepressants

Living with the common side effects of antidepressants.

If you’re one in eight Americans who take antidepressants, you may be living with the common side effects that these medications can cause, such as:

  • weight gain
  • nausea
  • sleep problems
  • sexual problems
  • fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • headaches
  • anxiety

The type of side effects you may experience depends on what medications your doctor prescribes. For many people, the side effects become less severe or go away entirely after a short period of taking the medication. But some people continue to experience side effects throughout their treatment. One study found that 33% of people surveyed stopped taking antidepressants because of the side effects, an unwise decision since stopping antidepressants suddenly can cause a return of your symptoms and withdrawal-like symptoms.

If you’re living with antidepressant side effects, there are strategies that can help you manage the impact your medication has on your quality of life.

  • Nausea: Before you start taking your medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should take it with food or on empty stomach and if there are any foods or beverages you should avoid while taking the medication. You can also ask if there is a difference in the side effects experienced by people who take the brand name versus the generic version of the medication and if changing the dosage or switching to slow-release form of the drug may decrease nausea. Try eating smaller, more frequent meals, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and sucking on sugarless candy or mints.
  • Weight gain: Talk with your doctor to find out if there’s an appropriate antidepressant that has a lower risk of causing you to gain weight. It’s also important to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Tracking what you eat in a food diary can help you find out if you’re eating more calories than you need to maintain or lose weight.
  • Sleep problems: If your antidepressant is causing insomnia, ask your doctor if you can take it in the morning when it may have less impact on your sleep. Reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet and avoid caffeinated food and drinks for several hours before bedtime. And while exercise can help tire you out, don’t exercise close to bedtime since it can boost your heart rate and the release of adrenaline. Relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises can be good ways to promote sleep.
  • Fatigue: Talk to your doctor about taking your medication before bed rather than in the morning and ask if there are other appropriate antidepressants that are less likely to cause fatigue. Physical activity can help you feel more alert, as can a brief nap.
  • Sexual side effects: If your medication is taken only once a day, try having sex before you take your daily dose. Ask your doctor if there’s an antidepressant that’s less likely to cause sexual side effects or if you can take prescription medication for erectile dysfunction or, for women, for decreased sex drive.
  • Dry mouth: Drink water throughout the day, chew sugarless gum to increase the amount of saliva in your mouth, and avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, which can increase dryness in your mouth. Ask your doctor if moisturizing mouth sprays, rinses, or lozenges could help relieve your symptoms.