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Learn about your medicine

To get the best results from an antidepressant medicine, you need to take it just as prescribed. Be sure you know:

  • The name and dose of your medicine.
  • How often you need to take it.
  • How to take it. For example, should you take it with a meal or just with a glass of water?
  • What to do if you miss a dose. Should you take it when you remember, or should you wait for the next dose?

When you pick up your medicine at the drugstore, read the information sheet that comes with it. This will list the side effects and other important facts. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask the pharmacist to explain it.

Take it as prescribed

  • Try to take your medicine at the same time each day so you get in the habit.
  • Use a pillbox that holds a week’s worth of pills. This can help prevent overdose.
  • If you have not improved at all after taking your medicine for 3 weeks, tell your doctor. You may need to try a different antidepressant.
  • Take your medicine for as long as your doctor says to. Don’t stop taking it just because you start to feel better.
  • When it is time to quit taking antidepressants, work closely with your doctor. You will need to slowly reduce the dose over a period of a few weeks. Quitting suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms or cause depression to return.

Know what to avoid

  • Do not take any new medicines without talking to your doctor first. Even common medicines such as aspirin and some vitamins and herbs can cause problems if you use them while you are taking antidepressants.
  • Do not drink alcohol. It can make the side effects worse.

Know about the side effects

Do not stop taking your medicine if you have mild side effects. They will most likely go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.

If the side effects bother you, talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe a different medicine or suggest ways to manage your side effects.

Call your doctor right away if you or anyone who takes antidepressants has any serious side effects, such as:

  • Chest pain.
  • Hives, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, or other signs of a serious allergic reaction.
  • Warning signs of suicide, such as talking or writing about death, giving away belongings, or withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Manic behavior, such as having very high energy, sleeping less than normal, being impulsive, or being grouchy or restless.
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Antidepressants are very good at treating depression. Keep the following in mind when you take antidepressants:

  • If you take your medicine as prescribed and give it time to work, you may begin to feel much better.
  • If you don’t take your medicine as prescribed, it is less likely to help you.
  • If you don’t keep taking it for at least 6 months after you feel better, it is more likely that depression will return. At least half of people with depression have a relapse.

Antidepressants help restore the normal balance of brain chemicals. When these brain chemicals are in balance, your depression gets better.

Be sure your doctor knows about any other health conditions you have and any medicines you take regularly. This information can affect which antidepressant your doctor prescribes for you.

There are many antidepressant medicines, and they affect brain chemistry in different ways. The first medicine you take may help you feel better. Or you might need to try a few medicines before you find the one that works best for you.

You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start to take an antidepressant. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. If you have not improved at all after taking an antidepressant for 3 weeks, talk to your doctor. You may need to try a different medicine.

Taking an antidepressant for at least 6 months after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. If this is not the first time you have been depressed, your doctor may want you to take the medicine even longer.

Side effects

Side effects may vary depending on the medicine you take, but common ones include stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, feeling anxious or on edge, sleep problems, drowsiness, loss of sexual desire, and headaches.

Most side effects are mild and will go away after you take the medicine for a few weeks.

Risks

If your child is taking antidepressants, make sure to tell your child’s doctor about any family history of bipolar disorder and to watch your child closely for signs of manicbehavior. Some people who are first diagnosed with depression turn out to have bipolar disorder, which causes mood swings from depression to mania. A first episode of mania can happen on its own, but it can also be triggered by certain medicines, including antidepressants.

Women who take an SSRI during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. But not treating depression can also cause problems during pregnancy and birth. If you are pregnant, you and your doctor must weight the risks of taking an SSRI against the risks of not treating depression.

FDA Advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued anadvisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for warning signs of suicide. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are changed.

Still, for people who are depressed, the benefits of antidepressants are probably greater than the risks. By relieving depression, antidepressants may actually reduce the risk of suicide in the long run.

The following series is an article from MSN Health and Fitness written by Lisa Farino

Before 10-year-old Tyler began taking medication for ADD, he and his mother had devised a creative way to help him focus on his homework. After school, he’d run laps around the yard before sitting down to complete his math homework. And if he really got antsy or unable to focus, it was back to the yard for a few more laps.

Tyler-a smart, articulate fifth-grader who enjoys every subject at school besides music-explains why these running breaks were so helpful: “Before I started taking medicine, it was hard to sit in a seat for a long time.”

It seems Tyler and his mother may have been onto something. Ample research suggests that all children, especially those with ADD or ADHD, need school recesses and other unstructured play time to function at their best.

That presents a growing problem for kids, as it’s estimated that 40 percent of elementary schools across the country have cut back on–or have eliminated–recess in the past decade.

The need for play isn’t being met after school either, as time that used to be devoted to unstructured (often outdoor) play is now being replaced by an increasing number of structured activities (such as piano and gymnastics lessons) or passive indoor activities like watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet.

Fear: Antidepressants increase the risk of suicide.

Fact: Studies in recent years have raised concerns that antidepressants may raise the risk of suicide among children, adolescents, and young adults. For example, a 2009 review in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) analyzed 372 studies involving nearly 100,000 people who were taking antidepressants. It found that compared to placebo, use of antidepressant drugs was associated with a small increased risk for suicidal thoughts in some children and young adults, have no effect on suicide risk among those 25 to 64, and reduce risk in those 65 and older.

In 2004, the FDA required manufacturers of antidepressants to revise their labels to include a black box warning statement about these risks.

Other studies paint a different picture. A 2006 study published in PLoS Medicine suggests that the use of antidepressants has saved thousands of lives. Data show that the U.S. suicide rate held fairly steady for 15 years prior to the introduction of the widely used antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) and then dropped steadily over 14 years while sales of Prozac rose. The research team found the strongest effect among women.

The bottom line: Regardless of your age or sex, it’s important to see a doctor immediately if you have suicidal tendencies or witness them in others.

Fear: Taking an antidepressant is a sign of weakness.

Fact: Like medical conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol, major depression is a condition that often responds to medication.When depression interferes with your ability to function normally, seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of good self-care.

Fear: If I start taking antidepressants, I’ll have to take them for the rest of my life.

Fact: Most people who take antidepressants need to take them continuously for six to nine months – not necessarily a lifetime. Once an antidepressant gets depression under control, you should work with your doctor to decide when to stop your medication and then decrease your dose gradually. Discontinuing them suddenly may cause problems such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

Fear: Antidepressants are expensive and aren’t covered by insurance.

Fact: Antidepressants are usually covered by insurance plans with prescription drug coverage. The cost of antidepressant therapy varies widely, depending on the dosage, the drug you are taking, and whether it is available as a generic. Even without insurance coverage, it is possible to purchase a generic antidepressant for as little as $15 per month.

Fear: Antidepressants will destroy my sex life.

Fact: Antidepressants can have an effect on sexual functioning. The problem is usually an inability to achieve orgasm rather than a lack of desire. But because depression itself decreases libido, a medication that eases depression may improve your sex life. As with other side effects, certain antidepressants may be more likely than others to cause sexual problems.

Fear: Taking an antidepressant will make me gain weight.

Fact: Like all drugs, antidepressants have side effects, and weight gain can be a common one of many of them. Some antidepressants may be more likely than others to cause weight gain; others may actually cause you to lose some weight. If this is a concern, talk with your doctor.

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