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Have you ever asked yourself: Do I have depression? You probably will not have come to a definite yes or no yourself, because feeling depressed for a short time is normal. On the question of how to treat depression, maybe you heard the word antidepressant.
We want to explain here what exactly that is and how antidepressants work. Here we go.
The science developed antidepressant drugs in the 1950s. In the last 20 years, their use has become increasingly common. There are different views on how helpful antidepressants are. Some doubt its effectiveness, others consider it indispensable. They can also have side effects. Weigh the pros and cons of antidepressant treatment with your doctor.
What Is Antidepressant Medication?
Antidepressants are drugs that help relieve symptoms of depression in certain situations but not in others. They are useful in moderate, severe, and chronic depression and probably not in mild depression.
They act on the brain by correcting a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters. A chemical imbalance can lead to mental imbalance, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, or thoughts of suicide. There are many different antidepressant groups available to treat depression.
What Do Antidepressants Do?
Nerve cells in the brain use various messenger substances to transmit stimuli. Experts have not clarified all details; they assume that depression alters the balance of certain messenger substances, such as serotonin. This imbalance inhibits nerve connections. Antidepressant medication is believed to improve the availability of these messenger substances in the brain. The various active elements achieve this in different ways.
Side effects, interactions, and adherence to therapy are essential factors. A doctor should pay attention to all these factors when selecting antidepressants for a patient.
How Does A Treatment Work?
You must do your antidepressant medication daily.
During the first weeks and months, the aim is to alleviate the symptoms. If possible, the objective is to make the depression disappear.
Sometimes the patient has to take these drugs even longer to avoid relapse. Duration of medication depends, among other things, on how symptoms develop and whether there is an increased risk of relapse. Some people take antidepressants for several years.
You should visit your doctor regularly, which is vital during treatment and till antidepressant withdrawal.
The doctor and patient then discuss the progress and the course of treatment. If necessary, adjust the dose of medication. Under no circumstances should the patient increase or decrease the dosage independently. That can result in the tablets not working sufficiently or causing more side effects.
At the end of the treatment, the doctor reduces the dose step by step for weeks. Temporary sleep disturbances, nausea, or restlessness may occur. These are symptoms that can happen when you stop the antidepressant treatment. Stopping medication by yourself as soon as you feel better also increases the risk of a recurrence of depression. However, unlike many sleeping pills and sedatives, antidepressants are not physically addictive or addictive.
How well do antidepressants alleviate the symptoms?
There are many different active ingredients against depression. However, it is difficult to predict how well a particular drug will help an individual. At the beginning of treatment, doctors often suggest medicine that they consider to be active and tolerable.
If the drug does not help as expected, it is possible to switch to another. Sometimes different drugs have to be tried to find an effective one.
Without antidepressants: In about 20 to 40 out of 100 people who took placebos, the symptoms improved within six to eight weeks.
With antidepressants: In about 40 to 60 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant, the symptoms improved within six to eight weeks.
That means that for an additional 20 people, the symptoms improved as a result of taking the antidepressants.
How well do antidepressants prevent relapses?
To prevent relapses, you take antidepressants usually for about one to two years, sometimes longer. Relapse prevention can be useful for people who have experienced several relapses, want to avoid a decline at all costs, or have chronic depression.
Adult studies show that taking commonly used antidepressants reduces the risk of relapse, but cannot wholly prevent it:
- Without prophylaxis: About 50 out of 100 people who took a placebo had a decline within one to two years.
- With prophylaxis: About 23 out of 100 people who took an antidepressant had a relapse during this period.
On average, 27 out of 100 people were able to prevent a relapse by taking an antidepressant for a more extended period.
What side effects may I notice from antidepressants?
- Every medicine and every herb has its side effects, including antidepressants. More than 40% of patients report these side effects. They usually occur in the first few weeks; later, they appear less frequently.
- Some side effects probably depend directly on the impact on the brain. They are relatively similar for different active substances that belong to a group. While taking antidepressants, patients report dry mouth, headaches, circulatory problems, restlessness, and sexual disturbances.
- Such complaints often occur as side effects of the drug. However, some of these symptoms may also be the result of depression.
- Whether and how often these side effects occur depends on the time, active ingredient, and dosage. Besides, everyone reacts differently — the risk of side effects increases, especially if the patient is taking other medications. Here it is best to try also natural antidepressants.
- Such interactions often occur when taking several medications. It is, therefore, essential to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the individual preparations with the doctor in detail. Together you may look for new antidepressants.
Some side effects are more frequent with certain active substances:
SSRI leads to more diarrhea, headaches, insomnia, and nausea.
Tricyclic antidepressants are more likely to cause vision problems, constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, tremor, and problems passing urine.
The side effects of tricyclic antidepressants are often more severe than those of SSRI or SNRI.
Severe side effects
Antidepressant medication can cause dizziness and gait insecurity and thus increase the risk of falls and fractures, especially in older people. Interactions with other medicines may increase this risk.
Very few people have had heart problems, epileptic seizures, or liver damage while taking antidepressants. There are speculations that these have been rare side effects of antidepressants.
Several studies suggest that teenagers think about suicide more often when they take SSRI or SSNRI and try to make their own lives more often.
Therefore, as a precaution, adolescents should consult their doctor or therapist more often during the initial stages of treatment so that signs of suicide risk can be detected early.
What Is Essential When Choosing Antidepressant Medication?
You should answer the following questions before treatment with antidepressant medication:
- Is there psychotherapy at the same time, or is it in the planning stage?
- Have antidepressants been used before, and have they helped?
- How serious are the side effects of the possible benefits?
When deciding on a particular drug, the question of side effects can also be decisive. The decisive prerequisite for the sensible use of antidepressants is a careful diagnosis. Experts assume that some people are prescribed the drugs unnecessarily.
One indication of this is that significantly more people are taking antidepressants today than in the past. For example, the drugs are sometimes used to treat minor complaints, although the benefits are doubtful.
Antidepressant Medication Conclusion
Antidepressants are effective in chronic, moderate, and severe depression. In mild depression, their benefits are doubtful. Therefore it is vital that severe depression is recognized and adequately treated. Here antidepressants can be helpful and enable some people, for example, to shape their daily lives or to start psychotherapy.