Antidepressant side effects: Feeling better, but not quite right?

For managing side effects of these common drugs, a few simple steps may help.


Antidepressant medications can be a godsend for people struggling with the dark mantle of depression. Yet like all drugs, they can cause side effects, which is why it's important to be aware of any changes in your body when you begin any new medication.

If you have any uncomfortable or worrisome antidepressant side effects, tell your doctor immediately. But for many of the mildly distressing side effects, a few simple steps may help. Here are some suggestions for managing side effects of antidepressants.

Dry mouth. Drink a lot of water, chew sugarless gum, and brush your teeth frequently.

Constipation. Eat whole grains, bran cereal, prunes, and hearty servings of fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water.

Trouble urinating. If you have difficulty starting urination, your doctor may be able to adjust your medication to relieve this problem.

Dizziness. Sudden changes in position can lead to a sharp drop in blood pressure that causes dizziness. To counter this effect, move slowly when you rise from a chair or get out of bed. Also, drink plenty of fluids.

Daytime drowsiness. This problem usually occurs at the beginning of treatment and may not last long. In some cases, it may help to take medication at bedtime, but ask your doctor about this first. If you feel drowsy, don't drive or use heavy or dangerous equipment.

Trouble sleeping. Sleep often improves after a few weeks, but sometimes a mild sleep aid or a switch to another medication is necessary.

Nausea. Often, nausea disappears within a few weeks. It may help to take the drug shortly after a substantial meal.

Agitation. You might feel uncomfortably nervous or restless after you start taking a drug. Jittery feelings may pass within a few weeks. But in relatively rare cases, agitation will persist; sometimes it's an early symptom of worsening depression or mania.

Headache. Headaches may come and go. Some persist, but they usually disappear within a few weeks.

Sexual difficulties. Sometimes sexual problems are transient or not related to the drug. Talk with your doctor about sexual problems that persist for more than a few weeks.

If any antidepressant side effects continue to bother you, your doctor may change your dose, shift the time of day that you take the medication, or split the daily dose into smaller amounts to be taken over the course of the day. Or he or she may recommend combining the drug with another one, switching to a different drug, or replacing drugs with therapy or other forms of treatment. Take all medications as directed, and don't stop taking them abruptly without talking to your doctor first. You can read more about depression and its treatment in the Harvard Special Health Report, Understanding Depression: The many faces of depression — and how to find relief.

By Julie Corliss
Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter


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