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How Do Antidepressants Work?

Treating Depression With Antidepressants

Although many medical professionals are recommending talking therapies for treating depression, the prescription of antidepressants is still commonplace. There are currently over thirty different kinds, so a patient may be prescribed several variants before finding the optimum drug for their needs. However, all antidepressants function in a similar way.

All groups of antidepressants act by raising levels of neurotransmitter in the brain, to bring about a change in mood. This is because clinical trials have shown that neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin have a significant impact on emotions. These neurotransmitters also disrupt the signals which communicate pain, which is why some people without the disorder may find themselves being prescribed an antidepressant.

Types Of Antidepressant

Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most widely used antidepressants because they have few associated side effects, and incidences of overdose are very rare. The best known SSRI is Prozac, but other common SSRIs include paroxetine and citalopram.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs) were intended to offer a more effective alternative to SSRIs. However, there is little evidence that this class of drug has a higher success rate for treating depression. But SNRIs do tend to be effective for patients for whom SSRIs proved ineffective.

Tricyclic antidepressants are no longer used as an initial course of treatment for depression, because there is a higher risk of overdose and unpleasant side effects, in comparison with more modern antidepressants. But tricyclics may still be prescribed for severe cases, where patients are not responding to alternative drugs.

Do Antidepressants Work?

Antidepressants currently work by alleviating the symptoms of depression, rather than by curing the root cause. But antidepressants do serve a useful purpose, as the relief the drugs offer can give a person the resilience they need to develop strategies for overcoming the disorder. It is estimated that up to sixty-five percent of people with depression will recover as a result of taking antidepressants, although this figure does not take into account relapse rate.

There are numerous studies that conclusively show that the most effective treatment for moderate to severe depression is a combination of antidepressants and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. However, there are also indications that antidepressants present little or no benefit in cases of mild depression. These cases are best tackled through positive lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise levels.

Side Effects Of Antidepressants

All medications carry a risk of side effects, and antidepressants are no exception. The side effects show some variance depending on the class of antidepressant being taken, but these are the most common:

* Nausea

* Dry Mouth

* Sleep problems (typically insomnia)

* Increased perspiration

* Erectile dysfunction in male patients

If the side effects are severe, a doctor may choose to prescribe an alternative drug. However, in most instances the effects are relatively mild and will improve as the body becomes used to the medication.

Depression can be debilitating. If you believe that you are suffering from depression, do not be afraid to seek advice and support from a medical professional.


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