Antidepressants FAQ

What are the main selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)?
Examples include Celexa (made by Parke-Davis), Lexapro (Forest), Zoloft (Pfizer), Prozac (Eli Lilly) and Paxil (GlaxoSmithKline).

How effective are SSRIs at treating depression?
Some people consider them life-savers, but several published studies have shown that SSRIs are no better than placebos at relieving symptoms of depression.

How do SSRIs work?
SSRIs are supposed to restore the balance of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood. With these brain chemicals in proper balance, the symptoms of depression are meant to be relieved.

What are the common side effects of SSRIs?
SSRI side effects can include:

•    Nausea, loss of appetite and diarrhea
•    Agitation and hyperactivity
•    Anxiety and irritability
•    Headaches and dizziness
•    Problems sleeping and drowsiness
•    Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
•    Manic episodes in children with bipolar disorder

Are SSRIs popular?
Extremely. Annual sales of antidepressants in the U.S. were about $240 million before SSRIs came on the market in the mid-1980s, but by 2004 that number had jumped to $11.2 billion. Americans take well over half of the world’s antidepressant medications.

Hasn’t the Food and Drug Administration issued some warnings about SSRIs?
Yes, the FDA has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these drugs but to watch for warning signs of suicide in those using them. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when doses are changed. The agency also issued an advisory about Paxil and birth defects. Women who take this drug in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy may have an increased chance of having a baby with a birth defect.

What is the controversy over marketing and SSRIs?
Critics contend that overzealous doctors (with encouragement from big drug companies) have prescribed SSRIs, even when their use was not necessary. In the last three years, media attention on the alleged link between SSRI use and juvenile suicide drew a cautionary statement to the parents of children taking SSRIs. Other critics of SSRIs claim that television and print advertising presents a bogus message, oversimplifying what these drugs actually do.

Have there been any SSRI lawsuits?
In March 2006, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of an 11-year-old Kansas boy and a 17-year-old Texas girl, both of whom took Paxil and committed suicide—and theoretically all other juveniles who took the drug and killed themselves.

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