The antidepressant Zoloft can affect people differently. If you take the drug, learn about potential Zoloft side effects and discuss them with your doctor.
If you’ve ever suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or social anxiety disorder, you know first-hand these conditions, when untreated, can negatively impact your quality of life. Thankfully, there are now several treatments available, including the antidepressant Zoloft, to effectively help these mental health problems.
Zoloft is the brand name for sertraline, one of several prescription drugs in the class of medications known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The drugs are believed to work by increasing the activity of serotonin in the brain. The medications are not exactly alike, and some work better for certain individuals than others. What’s more, these drugs all have side effects that can be minor or, sometimes, serious.
By understanding what Zoloft side effects may occur, you’ll know when to contact your doctor if you experience any physiological or psychological changes potentially linked to the medication.
Some Zoloft side effects may fade while you continue the drug, some can be intolerable, and others can be reason to adjust dosage, stop the medication, or change to another therapy. But never quit Zoloft without first consulting with your doctor. Stopping Zoloft, or any SSRI, suddenly can cause new symptoms or worsen depression, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns.
The most common Zoloft side effects
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these are the most common Zoloft side effects experienced by adults. Talk to your doctor if they don’t become tolerable or go away, or if they are severe.
- Nausea, loss of appetite, or indigestion
- Increased sleepiness or insomnia
- Increased perspiration
- Tremor or shaking
- Feeling unusually tired
- Sexual difficulties, including decreased libido and inability to ejaculate
Zoloft can cause medical side effects
Zoloft may cause low sodium (salt) in your blood, especially in the elderly. Signs of low sodium include headaches and feeling unsteady or weak. Confusion and problems with memory, thinking, and concentration can occur, too, and may be confused with dementia in seniors.
Several antidepressant medications, including Zoloft, can cause an eye problem called angle-closure glaucoma. If you experience changes in vision, eye pain, and swelling or redness in or around your eye while taking Zoloft, contact your doctor. Only certain people develop this condition, according to the FDA, and you may undergo an eye exam prior to taking Zoloft to see if you are at risk.
Before taking Zoloft, discuss any medications and supplements you take with your doctor and pharmacist because some combinations of drugs can cause side effects. For example, taking the blood thinner warfarin (sold as Coumadin and Jantoven) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen, or aspirin increases the risk of bleeding and bruising.
Abnormalities in liver enzyme tests occur in about one percent of people taking Zoloft — but they are usually modest and seldom mean the antidepressant must be stopped. However, although it’s rare, Zoloft can cause serious liver damage, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), usually within the first few months of taking the drug.
If acute liver injury results from Zoloft, or any other SSRI, it’s not known whether another similar drug can be safely substituted. So, if you do change to another antidepressant, careful medical monitoring is necessary, according to the NIH.
Zoloft side effects in children and young people
Children, teens, and young adults are at increased risk of several potentially serious Zoloft side effects. For example, the drug may slow normal growth and cause lack of appetite and weight loss. For that reason, the FDA urges regular checks of height and weight while kids and teens are taking the medication.
Other side effects in children and adolescents include nose bleeds, urinary incontinence, aggressive reactions, and behavior and abnormal agitation and muscle movement.
Another Zoloft side effect most likely to affect children, teens, and young people under the age of 24 has prompted the FDA to put a “black box warning” on the medication. This is the most serious warning placed on prescription drugs, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains.
It warns that Zoloft may cause suicidal thinking or behavior, including actual suicide attempts, in about four percent of those taking the drug. Because young people and kids are at highest risk, they should be closely watched for any worsening of depression, unusual changes in behavior, not sleeping or withdrawal from social activities, and threats or other signs of suicidal behavior, according to the NIMH.
Get immediate help for these Zoloft side effects
The NIMH and FDA urge you to seek immediate medical help if you or a child develop signs or symptoms of serious Zoloft side effects, including unusually angry or violent behavior, feeling suicidal, or acting on dangerous impulses.
In addition, be aware that serious allergic reactions to Zoloft, although rare, can occur. Get urgent medical help if you have any of these symptoms: rash, severe dizziness, itching and swelling (especially of the face, tongue, and throat), and trouble breathing.
Because Zoloft increases serotonin, it may rarely cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome — especially if you take other medications that also increase serotonin. The FDA urges getting emergency medical help ASAP if you develop some or all of these serotonin syndrome symptoms: fast heartbeat, acute dizziness, twitching muscles, unexplained fever, hallucinations, loss of coordination, unusual agitation and fast talking (mania), and severe nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Men may experience another rare Zoloft side effect — a painful or prolonged erection lasting four or more hours. Without treatment, permanent problems may result, so get medical help right away.
Remember, while side effects of any drug can be frightening, that doesn’t mean most people experience them. In fact, millions of people take Zoloft each year, and most have no serious reactions.
However, to stay safe, talk to your doctor if you have any unexpected symptoms or questions about the medication.
March 31, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN