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Antidepressants: how to manage their side effects

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The doctor has prescribed you an antidepressant, but you are worried about the side effects it may cause. While it is true that, compared to others, these medications are more likely to have adverse effects, there are several measures to take to tolerate them better.

Les antidépresseurs : comment gérer les effets secondaires?

Antidepressants and their adverse effects

Depression is a difficult time in a person’s life, and medication can be of great help for him or her to enjoy life again. However, all medications can lead to adverse effects, and antidepressants are no exception. But this unpleasant aspect of medication should not prevent someone from taking it if needed since the benefits of antidepressants far outweigh their negative aspects.

Thankfully, patients often gradually start tolerating their medication, which significantly reduces side effects. In addition, there are a few ways to help deal with them. For example, it is common for patients to start taking antidepressants progressively so that the system can slowly get used to their effects. Since side effects are usually linked to the dose taken, each increase phase is easier to go through; in other words, increasing the dose of antidepressants leads to a higher risk of experiencing side effects.

Adverse effects for each medication class

Not all antidepressants have the same adverse effects, and not all adverse effects present the same intensity. As such, some medications are known for causing a specific side effect, even though other agents can also cause it. The first antidepressants to have appeared on the market lead to more adverse effects in people who take them, as opposed to more recent medications, which are therefore the first ones to be prescribed to patients.

Also, because the response to treatment with antidepressants really varies from one person to another, the doctor may feel that a combination of medications is best. Consequently, this may cause more side effects. But what makes this unpredictability in treatment responses easier to deal with is the wide array of antidepressants that are found on the market. This allows a person to switch medications if his or hers is not effective enough or if the person is not tolerating it well. Together, the doctor and patient can find the best treatment to alleviate the symptoms of depression and promote better tolerance.

The most common adverse effects and their management

Although the list of possible adverse effects can seem long, some of them do occur more often. Here are some tips to deal with them as your body slowly builds its tolerance.

Side effect

Management

Dry mouth

  • Drink a little water often
  • Suck on ice chips
  • Chew sugar-free gum or hard candy
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Stop smoking
  • Use a saliva substitute

Constipation

  • Do a physical activity regularly
  • Eat more fibre (25 to 30 grams a day)
  • Take a fibre supplement
  • Drink more water (6 to 8 glasses a day)
  • Don’t delay having a bowel movement
  • Always plan to have a bowel movement at the same time each day
  • Use medication to treat constipation on the advice of the pharmacist

Nausea and vomiting

  • Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day
  • Avoid fatty, sweet and spicy foods
  • Drink more water (6 to 8 glasses a day)
  • Avoid strong odours (ex: perfume, food, tobacco)
  • Avoid alcohol
  • If needed, take a few doses of nausea and vomiting medication on the advice of the pharmacist

Drowsiness

  • Take the antidepressant at bedtime
  • Avoid driving or doing activities that require vigilance if you are feeling drowsy
  • Avoid alcohol or any other substance that may cause drowsiness

Insomnia

  • Take your medication in the morning (as far away from bedtime)
  • Favour a calm environment at bedtime
  • Don’t nap during the day
  • Stop consuming stimulants a few hours before bedtime (ex: chocolate, coffee, tea)
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Do physical activity regularly during the day
  • Establish a routine for going to sleep and waking up
  • Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only

Low pressure

  • Get up slowly from a lying-down position to a seated position, then from sitting to standing
  • Drink more water (6 to 8 glasses a day)

Weight gain

  • Exercise
  • Adopt healthy eating habits
  • Eat crudités before meals to have smaller meals
  • Avoid fatty, sweet foods
  • Consult a nutritionist

Sexual dysfunction

  • Always talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you are experiencing adverse effects of a sexual nature
  • Never change your treatment without having discussed it first with your pharmacist or your doctor
  • Consider replacing your medication with another
  • Consider using medication or a product to help with the specific problem you are having, such as medication to treat erectile dysfunction or a lubricant during intercourse

In short, treating depression can vary greatly from one person to the next, just like the adverse effects that can follow. Thankfully, it is possible to manage them properly to minimize their impact on one’s quality of life. These medications can play a very important role in the mental well-being of those who suffer from depression, so their side effects must not become an obstacle to their beneficial effects. The pharmacist is also indispensable in treating depression. He of she can, for instance:

  • determine whether the experienced side effect is linked to antidepressants;
  • provide tips to control adverse effects;
  • discuss adjusting the therapy with the person’s doctor, such as reducing doses, changing medications or adding a measure to fix the situation (like another medication, for example).

Managing the adverse effects of antidepressants is possible, so don’t get discouraged when they occur. Remember how important your mental health and your happiness are; this will help you follow your treatment carefully and motivate you to search for solutions… with the help of your pharmacist, of course!

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