Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medication for adults ages 18 to 44 years. In addition to depression, antidepressants treat a number of other conditions, including anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft) is an antidepressant that belongs to a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Studies have shown sertraline to be effective for treating major depressive disorder, panic disorder, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder. Like other SSRIs, sertraline can have a variety of side effects. Symptoms may also occur if a person abruptly stops taking sertraline.
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Common Side Effects
Sertraline hydrochloride causes side effects in a variety of body systems -- most commonly nausea, sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, headache, appetite changes and dry mouth. Sertraline shares many side effects with other SSRI medications. According to a February 2009 study in "Psychiatry," among 700 people taking SSRI medications, 38 percent reported side effects. The most common were sexual dysfunction, drowsiness and weight gain. Other commonly occurring SSRI side effects are palpitations or a feeling of heart fluttering, chest pain, back pain and overall muscle pain.
Uncommon Side Effects
The most serious side effects of sertraline hydrochloride are rare. Respiratory side effects have been reported, including wheezing or difficulty breathing and -- in uncommon cases -- a decreased breathing rate and breathing cessation. Infrequently, sertraline has been associated with high or low blood pressure; rarely heart attacks have been reported. Infrequent adverse psychiatric side effects include a worsening of symptoms such as aggravated depression, aggressive behavior and, rarely, suicidal thoughts. Other rare side effects can include liver dysfunction and visual dysfunction.
Managing Side Effects
Because the most common side effects of sertraline hydrochloride are sexual dysfunction and weight gain, doctors may use several strategies to reduce these problems. For example, the dose can be lowered to a level that lessens the side effect while still working to treat symptoms. Also, the medication can be changed altogether to one that is effective for the disorder but has a lower chance of sexual dysfunction or other side effects. Finally, to reduce the likelihood of weight gain, the prescribing doctor may institute a diet and exercise program.
Discontinuation Side Effects
If bothersome symptoms occur with sertraline hydrochloride use, the medication should not be stopped abruptly. Sudden discontinuation can lead to a number of symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, headaches and anxiety. Concerning side effects should be discussed with a doctor who can safely reduce the dose or even gradually stop the medication. Sertraline should not be mixed with other medications or supplements without physician supervision because a severe disorder called serotonin syndrome can occur. Serotonin syndrome is marked by a cluster of symptoms that include sweating, muscle twitching, shivering, poor coordination and confusion. If not treated, it can become life-threatening.