At times it seems like we are living in an age where there is literally a pill for everything. The significance of many modern drugs that have been developed in recent decades should not be diminished, but sometimes their overuse can become a serious problem. A classic example of this is with antibiotics. They have been so overused for so long that their continued use has come into question because so many of them are ineffective against bacteria that has developed resistance. Perhaps resistance to antidepressants will never become a problem for the people taking them, but do doctors today rely too heavily on them?
There is no doubt that there are people that are helped tremendously by antidepressants, but should they be handed out to every patient who walks through the door reporting that they feel sad because their girlfriend dumped them or their dog died? Antidepressant medications – like almost all prescription drugs – have side effects, and some of them can be serious. Is it really worth the risk that goes along with handing these kind of drugs out to people who are not suffering from true clinical depression? The following risks are associated antidepressants that are classified as SSRIs or “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors” like Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, Lexapro, and others.
1. Physical Symptoms
Some people who take antidepressants experience unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, insomnia, digestive problems, and skin rash. Some of the more serious potential side effects that are possible include reduced ability of the blood to clot, which places people at increased risk for stomach and uterine bleeding and are elevates their risk for higher-than-normal blood loss during surgery or other medical procedures. The risk is the same that people are exposed to when taking NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen. People who are on antidepressants and also use NSAID pain relievers more then double their risk of bleeding problems.
2. Involuntary Movement
Not all of the effects antidepressant medications have on the brain and nervous system are well understood. Side effects sometimes suggest that some medications have a strong tendency to disrupt systems in the body that have nothing to do with the conditions they are intended to treat. A good example would be the possibility of involuntary movements experienced by people taking antidepressants. These may include muscle spasms, tics, repetitive muscle movement, rigid or trembling extremities, compulsive restlessness and loss of fine motor control.
3. Liver Function
Due to the way antidepressants are processed by the liver, it is possible that there could be undesirable interactions with other prescription drugs, particularly fluoxetine and paroxetine. It is possible that antidepressant medications may interfere with these drugs and cause them to become less effective. This risk is more likely to be a problem for older people because their liver function is not as efficient as it is in younger people.
4. Serotonin Syndrome
Antidepressants work by making more serotonin available to the brain. Since serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can help promote pleasant feelings, it can often help elevate mood and lift someone out of depression. While increased levels of serotonin may be good for a person’s mood, too much can be extremely dangerous. People on antidepressants who take other medications or even some herbal supplements that can also raise serotonin levels can put themselves at risk for serotonin syndrome. This condition can trigger dangerous symptoms like rapid heartbeat, high fever, high blood pressure and even delirium. Both doctors and patients need to be sure that any other drugs they are taking in addition to antidepressants will not cause these kinds of dangerous interactions.
For many people, antidepressants may be prescribed with the idea of helping them get through a rough period in their lives and are not meant to be used long-term. In these cases, people will eventually stop taking them but should be cautioned that antidepressants should not simply be stopped “cold turkey,” and should have their dosage gradually reduced over time until they are completely off the medication. Symptoms of withdrawal can be serious and may include seizures, fatigue, blurred vision, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, irritability, crying spells, loss of coordination, tingling, and insomnia.
6. Pregnant Women
Every medication can become a serious concern for pregnant women and antidepressants are no exception. Some medical studies have concluded that taking antidepressants while pregnant may result in lower birth weight. There is also the possibility that babies can be born with the drug in their system, which may cause them to suffer withdrawal symptoms that could include crying, shivering, jitters, irritability and seizures.
Ironically, antidepressants – drugs that are intended to improve a person’s mood – can make suicide more likely for some people. Young adults and those under the age of 18 are at highest risk for this extremely troubling side effect. Only after a number of actual suicides that followed the introduction of SSRI antidepressant drugs in the late 1980’s did the FDA issue a “Black Box Warning” in 1994 which warned the public about the dangers of increased suicidal thoughts in young people taking these drugs. The warning was issued in 1994 and is the strongest action the FDA can take short of taking a drug off the market entirely.