Zoloft Side Effects
When it comes to starting a new medication, especially one for depression, research can help you determine if the drug can be beneficial in treating your symptoms. At YourDrugs, we want you to be fully informed about Zoloft, about both its efficacy and its potential side effects so you can make the best decision possible.
Depression, whether mild or severe, affects over 300 million people worldwide, with over 16 million adults affected in the United States alone. Children between the ages of 3 and 17 are just as affected by depression, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which states approximately 1.9 million children have been diagnosed with the disorder.
This mood disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It can make it difficult to function, especially when serious setbacks occur.
Its effects are not strictly mental, they can be emotional and physical as well, leading to extreme fatigue and a general listless feeling that keeps sufferers from getting out of bed all day.
There are different types of depression including major, persistent, bipolar, seasonal affective, psychotic, peripartum (postpartum) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) to name a few. Each presents with different symptoms and must be diagnosed by a physician or psychologist in order to begin treatment, whether therapeutic or medicinal in nature.
To help keep the symptoms at bay, physicians often turn to Zoloft, which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. It’s commonly prescribed for adults who suffer from depression, but it’s also known to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children ages 6 to 17.
Patients looking for a generic option will find sertraline in both tablet and liquid form. The tablets may vary widely in appearance in both shape and color, depending on the strength.
Zoloft is manufactured by Pfizer, while the generic sertraline is manufactured by Ivax Pharmaceuticals and Roxane Laboratories.
How Does Zoloft Work?
Zoloft works for many conditions including depression, panic disorders, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions such as social phobia and sometimes premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
The medication helps boost a person’s mood by slowing down the reabsorption of serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter, in their brain. This helps increase overall serotonin levels, and since it’s known to increase positive emotions, it helps ward off the negative thoughts and emotions tied to depression and other disorders.
Zoloft medication is taken as an oral dose. It comes in both liquid and tablet form in varying strengths. Tablets come in 25mg, 50mg and 100mg dosages.
They are swallowed whole and can be taken with or without food, while the liquid form is diluted with select beverages including water, orange juice, lemonade, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda.
The benefits of the drug are typically realized after taking it consistently for several weeks. It should not be discontinued without weaning off as it can cause serious withdrawal symptoms and mood swings that are detrimental to a person’s well-being.
What Are Some Common Zoloft Side Effects?
Like every medication, there are some common side effects that come along with the use of Zoloft. It’s important to realize that the higher the dosage, the higher the potential for reactions. For example, Zoloft 50mg side effects will vary from 100mg Zoloft side effects.
The most commonly treated reactions for adults include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in sleeping habits including insomnia
- Excess fatigue
- Shaking or tremors
- Excess sweating
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Changes in sexual function such as loss of libido and failure to ejaculate
- Manic episodes
Some of these same side effects present in children and adolescents, but they are more likely to experience nosebleeds, slower growth rates and the potential for weight changes. Sertraline is known for causing a decreased appetite, and SSRIs, in general, have been shown to cause weight gain.
Simple monitoring will help determine if your child is affected one way or another. Some child and adolescent patients also experienced urinary incontinence along with muscle twitching.
While most adverse reactions typically subside over time as the body adjusts, the sexual side effects usually do not. If this is a problem, it’s worth seeking the advice of a medical professional.
It’s also important that you don’t operate heavy machinery, including a motor vehicle, until you know how the medication will affect you, to prevent the risk of injury.
Are the Side Effects Immediate?
How the side effects present depends on the patient and how they react. Some experience an immediate reaction to the drug while others don’t have any side effects until they have been taking the medication for a few weeks. Others never experience any adverse reactions at all.
It’s not uncommon for these effects to show up immediately or within a few weeks as each person’s body adjusts differently. Keep your doctor informed while you’re on Zoloft so they can monitor your dosage and adjust it if necessary.
Rare Zoloft Side Effects
Rare side effects don’t happen often, but when they do, it’s definitely a cause for concern. Seek immediate medical help if you or the patient experience:
- Bloody, black stool
- Eye swelling, redness, pain
- Vision changes such as blurred vision or seeing rainbows around a light at night
- Vomit that resembles coffee grounds
Serotonin toxicity is a rare, but possible effect that may present with hallucinations, excess restlessness, quick heartbeat, and loss of coordination or severe dizziness. This usually happens when Zoloft is combined with other drugs that increase serotonin levels.
In addition to the above, men may also experience an erection that lasts for four or more hours. In this case, it’s advised to discontinue the drug and get medical help immediately to avoid permanent problems. Speak with your doctor after treatment to see if it’s best to avoid the drug altogether.
More Serious Zoloft Side Effects
The more serious Zoloft side effects warrant an immediate call to your physician. They include abnormal and aggressive changes in behavior including feeling irritable, agitated and acting out in an aggressive or violent way.
Zoloft carries a black box warning that alerts patients to the fact that for some people, taking the medication may make them experience suicidal thoughts and even go so far as to attempt suicide while on the medication.
Worsening depression is also a serious side effect that may require an adjustment in the medication or a discontinuation thereof. If you notice that your depression is not improving, make sure you speak to your healthcare professional to see if an adjustment in the dosage is needed or if there’s potentially a better medication that can help.
Those who suffer from bipolar disorder may experience manic mood swings unless they’re also on a mood stabilizer. In this case, it’s important that your doctor know what other medications you’re taking to avoid any serious interactions.
Are There Long Term Side Effects or Harm Caused by Zoloft Use?
As of February 2019, there are no noted long-term side effects caused by extended use of Zoloft. It’s been noted as generally safe to use when the directions are followed as indicated by the manufacturer and by your physician.
It’s worth mentioning that seeking immediate help when you experience serious or rare side effects can help prevent lasting damage.
Zoloft’s Drug Identification Number
Like all medications on the market, Zoloft has a drug identification number that the FDA uses to regulate its use and distribution. You can find it under NDA 019839 on the FDA’s website. All of the dosages have their own unique packaging number as well to differentiate the strengths.
The dosage amount depends on the severity of the symptoms and the patient’s age. The type of disorder being treated is taken into consideration as well.
Initial dosages start at 25 or 50mg. If the response is inadequate, doctors may increase it incrementally at each visit, up to a maximum of 200mg per day. For women who are suffering from PMDD, the initial dosage usually starts at 50mg but is administered only during the menstrual cycle or in the days leading up to the cycle.
What If You Miss a Dose?
Zoloft must be taken exactly as prescribed by your physician, and it should be taken at the same time every day to establish a routine. If you miss a dose, it’s important to take it as soon as you can.
The exception to this is if it’s almost time for your next one. Then skip the dose you missed and take the next one at your scheduled time.
Taking two at once can lead to an overdose along with adverse reactions that may require medical attention.
Efficacy for Depression
Zoloft is backed with over 25 years of clinical experience which includes several short-term trials in which the drug was tested and analyzed with different groups including adults, children and women for major depressive disorder and OCD.
Each study for major depressive disorder compared the use of the medication along with other brands, such as amitriptyline, and with placebos. Zoloft proved to be the superior drug that also resulted in a lower rate of relapse: 8 percent compared to 39 percent with the placebo.
Some trials included analyzing Zoloft for PTSD treatment. These trials were offered to adults who suffered from PTSD for an average of 12 years, and one specifically focused on women since they are more likely to suffer from the disorder.
Relapse rates were lower on Zoloft compared to placebos in controlled studies.
Overall, the Zoloft treatment success rate is high when compared to other drugs in its class. However, it does not work for everyone and should not be considered a one-size-fits-all solution.
Past indicators of success do not mean that the success rate will be the same for everyone.
Is Zoloft Right for You?
The decision of whether or not Zoloft treatment is right for you is only one you can come to after a discussion with your doctor. It’s important to be open and honest about the symptoms you or your loved one are experiencing.
Zoloft has a high efficacy rate for treating various forms of depression and helping with other borderline mood disorders such as OCD and PMDD. Armed with the knowledge of how the drug works, it is a personal choice as to whether you want to try Zoloft, another SSRI or even another class of drugs altogether.
However, it’s worth noting that many people take Zoloft with positive results, allowing them to live a functional life, even with a mood disorder that can threaten to overtake even the sunniest day. It might have the same results for you, even if it takes a little bit of adjusting when it comes to the dosage that’s best for you.
If the Zoloft treatment cost is what’s affecting your decision, you can opt to have your prescription filled with the generic brand or see if you qualify for reduced-cost prescriptions from the manufacturer.
When to Consult or Contact Your Doctor / OB-GYN
When it comes to Zoloft treatment, there are a few times that you might want to reach out to your doctor. If you don’t feel that the medication is working for you, and you’ve been on it for a few weeks, it may be that the dosage isn’t strong enough or the medication itself isn’t effective.
It’s okay, even recommended, to call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns that may not be addressed on the patient guide included with your prescription. If you experience symptoms that aren’t listed, for example, it’s a good idea to ask your physician if it’s normal.
If you’re thinking about discontinuing the medication, don’t do so without speaking to your doctor because it can be detrimental to your health, especially if you’re on a higher dosage such as 100 or 200mg per day. After discussing your concerns, if you do decide to stop taking Zoloft, you’ll need to wean off over the course of several weeks.
Pregnancy and Zoloft
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the risk of harm to your unborn fetus. There have been numerous studies of patients on sertraline during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester.
To get a full understanding of the risk factor, it’s important to understand that there is a background risk involved with every pregnancy, whether the patient is taking prescription drugs or not. Studies attribute 3 to 5 percent risk to every single pregnant woman at the date of conception.
When compared to the background risk, researchers have not seen an increase with the use of Zoloft in the first trimester. However, according to some studies, women who take the drug during their third trimester may experience pregnancy side effects of Zoloft such as low birth weight or premature delivery.
Furthermore, when taken in the third trimester, the infant develops a small chance of going through withdrawal symptoms after delivery. These Zoloft effects on baby include jitteriness, colicky behavior, tremors and vomiting to name a few.
Some babies may be required to stay in the hospital for a few extra days under medical care while they complete the withdrawal process.
There is a risk of Zoloft passing through breastmilk, so if you’re planning to breastfeed, you should discuss it with your OB-GYN and pediatrician to access the risk, if any. Men who take sertraline do not pose any risk to a fetus.
Risks of Zoloft
Every medication comes with some risks, and Zoloft is no exception. It’s also important to note that everyone’s body reacts differently and where some people may experience several side effects, others will have no adverse reactions at all.
Discuss the risks mentioned above with your healthcare professional to determine if you might be at a greater risk of side effects due to your medicinal and medical history.
Do Not Take Zoloft If:
There are several reasons why you should potentially avoid taking Zoloft. For example, if you are currently taking or have taken MAO inhibitors in the last two weeks, you need to wait until the medication has cleared your system before you start.
Doctors will also not prescribe Zoloft if you’re currently taking pimozide, a specific brand of antipsychotic.
If you have had an allergy to sertraline in the past, your physician will recommend a different course of treatment to avoid a potentially life-threatening situation.
Notify your doctor if you have a history of any of the following medical conditions:
- Low sodium levels in your blood
- Manic depression (bipolar disorder)
- Bleeding issues, especially if you’re on blood thinning medication
- Kidney and/or liver disease
- Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, history of stroke, high blood pressure
Additionally, you should avoid the use of liquid Zoloft if you’re on disulfiram, also known as Antabuse because it can cause a severe reaction due to the alcohol content in it.
Like all medications, there are certain circumstances when you should not take Zoloft. Over 1000 drugs are known to interact with the medication, with most reactions being major to moderate in nature.
It’s important to be upfront with your doctor about both your medical history and which medications you’re currently taken or have taken in the recent past.
Some drugs that should be avoided while you’re on Zoloft or sertraline include:
- MAO inhibitors
Additionally, it’s a good idea to use aspirin sparingly, if you have to use it at all. Instead, stick to other pain relievers as directed by your doctor.
Zoloft and Alcohol
Zoloft and liquor — whether directly or included as part of another medication — do not pair well together and can lead to increased side effects when combined. A few reactions include difficulty concentrating, dizziness and drowsiness, with impaired judgment exacerbated by the alcohol.
Zoloft and Other Diseases
Your medical history is a big part of deciding whether a drug will work for you without causing other issues, serious or otherwise. Let your doctor know if you or your loved one suffer from mania, liver disease, glaucoma or seizure disorders.
Taking Zoloft can also interact with any disease or disorder involving platelet function, syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH) or renal dysfunction.
Your doctor will check your medical history and pharmaceutical history to see if there are any underlying concerns about taking the drug.
What Other Drugs and Treatments Are There?
It’s a fact that not everyone who takes SSRIs will respond to them. In fact, only 1 out of 3 patients find that this classification of drugs helps to treat their depression.
For some people, simply switching to another SSRI solves the problem, but if the drugs including Zoloft, do not work for you, there are other options that you can try.
Combining your SSRI with another medication, such as an antipsychotic with the exception of the aforementioned pimozide, can help balance out dramatic mood swings.
For some people, talk therapy helps with easing the symptoms of depression, especially as they are able to come to an understanding or resolution with factors in their lives that may be bringing on heavier bouts of the mood disorder.
Speak with your doctor about what else you can do if SSRIs do not work for you. Chances are, with a bit of discussion and trial and error, you’ll find a solution that puts you on level ground again.
How Many Cycles of Zoloft Should You Try Before Moving On?
There is no set time frame for how long a patient should take Zoloft before considering another medication. However, because of the drug can take several weeks to balance out the brain chemistry, it’s a good idea to work with a medical professional for at least a few months before deciding it doesn’t work.
Sometimes, it takes a few adjustments, including increasing or decreasing the dosage, to find the right strength that works for you. Be patient and if you’re still not seeing results in a few months, then it may be time to try a new approach.