Antidepressant medications can often help depression sufferers. However, they do have side effects, and some can be dangerous. Before starting any antidepressant medication, it is a good idea to consult with your doctor so you can weigh the benefits and the risks. Sometimes antidepressant meds are not the solution because of the side effects.

Depression is most often caused by lower levels of serotonin in the brain. Antidepressants raise these levels back to their state of normalcy. While it is true that there are many studies that contradict the theory of depression being caused by a chemical imbalance, they have yet to figure out exactly what is the cause.

Serotonin levels cannot be measured, so researchers do not know what a “normal” level is. All they know is that something causes the serotonin levels to decrease and there are drugs to reverse this. Some studies have shown that moods and depression do not always worsen when the individual’s serotonin levels are reduced. Also in question is the fact that antidepressants take several weeks to start having an effect, yet it only takes a few hours for the same medications to raise serotonin levels. It would make sense that a depressed person should feel better in a few hours, not a few weeks.

Researchers are starting to realize that depression involves more than a chemical imbalance in the brain. While lower serotonin levels appear to be one of the causes, they are also finding that elevated stress levels, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, shrinking brain cells, suppressing immune systems and abnormal activity in the brain are surfacing as causes. There are also many psychological and social factors that have an effect as well.

Antidepressant medication has proven to be effective when treating depression. It has also shown to cause side effects in approximately 50% of the people that take them. Medication should only be prescrib3ed when the symptoms of depression are severe. In most cases of mild depression, exercise, changes to diet, and therapy can work just as effectively.

The most prescribed types of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). These medications are commonly known as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Luvox, and Lexapro. SSRI’s are responsible for increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood and helps with pain, sleep, digestion, and mental clarity. Due to these roles, SSRI’s come with a large range of side effects such as nausea, anxiety, insomnia, decreased sex drive, sweating, sleepiness, dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, and weight gain/loss. The most common of these side effects are lowered sex drive, sleepiness, insomnia, and nausea. These side effects usually go away within a few weeks. Sometimes though, they remain and even can get worse.

Some of the newer drugs on the market such as Wellbutrin and Effexor are called atypical antidepressants because they affect other neurotransmitters as well as serotonin. The side effects of these drugs are less severe and include nausea, fatigue, weight gain, nervousness, and dry mouth.

Regardless of which medication path the doctor prescribes, always weigh the benefits against the risks to make sure the chosen medication is right for you.