Depression: Taking Antidepressants Safely
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If your doctor has prescribed antidepressants, there are some important things you need to know about how to take them. Following these guidelines can reduce problems and help you get the most benefit from your medicine.
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Antidepressants help restore the normal balance of brain chemicals. When these brain chemicals are in balance, your depression gets better.
Be sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have and any medicines you take regularly. This information can affect which antidepressant your doctor prescribes for you.
There are many antidepressant medicines, and they affect brain chemistry in different ways. The first medicine you take may help you feel better. Or you might need to try a few medicines before you find the one that works best for you.
You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start to take an antidepressant. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have not improved at all after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. You may need to try a different medicine.
Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.
Side effects may vary depending on the medicine you take, but common ones include stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, feeling anxious or on edge, sleep problems, drowsiness, loss of sexual desire, and headaches.
Most side effects are mild and will go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.
If your child is taking antidepressants, make sure to tell your child's doctor about any family history of bipolar disorder and to watch your child closely for signs of manic behavior. Some people who are first diagnosed with depression turn out to have bipolar disorder, which causes mood swings from depression to mania. A first episode of mania can happen on its own, but it can also be triggered by certain medicines, including antidepressants.
Women who take an SSRI during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. But not treating depression can also cause problems during pregnancy and birth. If you are pregnant, you and your doctor must weight the risks of taking an SSRI against the risks of not treating depression.
FDA Advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for warning signs of suicide. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are changed.
Still, for people who are depressed, the benefits of antidepressants are probably greater than the risks. By relieving depression, antidepressants may actually reduce the risk of suicide in the long run.
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As soon as you start to feel better, you can slowly reduce how much medicine you take.
Antidepressants are very good at treating depression. Keep the following in mind when you take antidepressants:
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Antidepressants work best when you take them exactly as prescribed.
Learn about your medicine
To get the best results from an antidepressant medicine, you need to take it just as prescribed. Be sure you know:
When you pick up your medicine at the drugstore, read the information sheet that comes with it. This will list the side effects and other important facts. If there is anything you don't understand, ask the pharmacist to explain it.
Take it as prescribed
Know what to avoid
Know about the side effects
Do not stop taking your medicine if you have mild side effects. They will most likely go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.
If the side effects bother you, talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe a different medicine or suggest ways to manage your side effects. For more information, see:
Call your doctor right away if you or anyone who takes antidepressants has any serious side effects, such as:
Test Your Knowledge
If you have not improved after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, you should stop taking it.
Now that you have read this information, you know more about how to take antidepressants wisely.
If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes on the pages where you have questions.
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