More commonly known as Zoloft, which is the trade name Pfizer uses, sertraline is an antidepressant that is widely used as a treatment for depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Over 35 million prescriptions for sertraline are issued in the United States annually. Sertraline treatment typically lasts years or until the targeted mental disorders have been adequate treatment.
Sertraline can also treat premature ejaculation, and often at a lower dose than is required to treat depression or other psychiatric issues.
Whether you take sertraline as an antidepressant or to improve your sex life, it’s a serious drug that afects brain chemistry. After all, that’s its purpose by design. There are a wide range of side effects, however, most are mild and most will resolve during the first few weeks as your body and brain adapt to the drug.
Major side effects are rare, and sertraline is generally well tolerated. That said, you’ll need to be fully aware of what potential side effects can occur.
Let’s start with one of the most notorious side effects: the impact on your libido. This is a common issue not just for sertraline but for all antidepressants from the SSRI class (including Paxil and Prozac). At least 40 percent and up to 65 percent of sertraline users can experience a lower sex drive or difficulties with achieving orgasm during the early stages of sertraline treatment. Both men and women can be affected by this.
For men, the most common effects are ejaculation and orgasm difficulties. The cause of this is the same mechanism that makes sertraline useful for treating premature ejaculation. It may comfort you that these sexual side effects often improve or resolve with time as your body gets accustomed to sertraline.
If the sexual side effects do not go away after 2 months of treatment or even get worse, have an open discussion with your doctor about the problem. He or she then will decide whether to switch you to another antidepressant or whether to prescribe medications that can ease the sexual side effects.
A common side effect during the first several weeks on sertraline is a feeling of mild dizziness and/or lightheadedness, which will last for up to 3-4 weeks. In particular, this is common for sertraline users who take their pills in the morning. Taking your daily dose in the evening may help reduce daytime dizziness, but may come at the cost of reducing sleep quality (see more below).
In the event that dizziness persists beyond the fourth week of treatment, speak to your doctor about it.
Experienced by most people who take sertraline (or SSRI in general) during the initial few weeks. You may feel tired or worn out, and certain activities you normally do with ease will require greater effort. Like with other side effects, ftigue seems to be part of the body’s adjustment process to sertraline. After a month of treatment, your energy levels should be back to normal. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to see your doctor.
Studies have shown that SSRIs, including sertraline, affect users’ sleep quality and cause a degree of insomnia. Many people complain that they find it harder to fall asleep or wake up frequently throughout the night.
Again, these effects are short-term and normally disappear once the body’s sertraline levels have reached a steady state within 3-4 weeks. Taking your daily sertraline dose in the morning, rather than evening, will improve sleep quality, but by doing so you are more likely to experience dizziness. So, it really is a trade-off. You’ll need to figure out which side effect you can tolerate best. Moreover, during that one month of initial sertraline use, try to avoid caffeine and other stimulants (coffee, energy drinks, sodas, etc.).
SSRIs like sertraline can increase your appetite. The medication doesn’t change how you digest food, but simply pushes you to eat more. A British study over the course of 10 years which included 300,000 men and women, found that SSRI users had a moderately greater risk of weight gain. In the second treatment year, the number of SSRI users who had gained more than 5 percent of their previous body weight was 46.3 percent more than in the control group.
Another study quantifies the SSRI-associated weight gain at close to 0.6lbs (~0.30kg) for every year of treatment. Yet other studies say it’s up to 3lbs per year. While there is uncertainty about the magnitude of the weight gain effect, all studies agree that you are likely to gain a few pounds when taking sertraline.
On the upside, how much weight you gain is entirely within your control. Talk to your doctor about how to adjust and monitor your eating habits and nutrient intake in order to avoid weight gain.
During the first weeks of sertraline treatment, loose stool and diarrhea can be common side effects. Studies indicate that around 15 percent of people may repeatedly experience diarrhea or milder bowel disturbances. Other SSRI drugs, such as fluoxetine or paroxetine are easier on the digestive system. If diarrhea persists for several weeks without improvement, your doctor may consider switching you to an alternative treatment.
Another side effect that impacts the digestive system can be reduced appetite, but this is a temporary effect. Longer term, sertraline most often will increase your appetite, as discussed in the weight gain section above.
Although rare, SSRIs in general can trigger suicidal thoughts, particularly in people aged 24 and younger, as trials by the U.S. FDA in 2005-06 showed. Similarly, SSRIs can raise aggression levels in this age group. The FDA results were confirmed by later studies, including a 2017 extensive review of 70 trials from across Europe.
For people older than 24, SSRIs in general and sertraline in particular are safer to use as the risks of suicidal thoughts and aggression fall in line with normal levels in a given population. Moreover, it appears that for people older than 65, taking SSRIs may lower the risk of getting suicidal thoughts.
While for adults past the age of 24 there’s little risk of suicidal thoughts and heightened aggressive behavior, it’s very important that you closely monitor your first few weeks on sertraline or other SSRIs. Share your experience with your doctor and loved ones, so that they can help you discern any mood or behavior changes.
Sertraline makes your blood thinner, which in rare instances can inhibit blood clotting (i.e., wounds will continue bleeding and not close up for an extended period). This could potentially lead to internal bleeding and it’s for this reason that NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which also act as blood thinners, are best avoided in combination with sertraline.
A warning: don’t take sertraline or any other SSRI during pregnancy as this may result in miscarriage. Ask your doctor for more advice if you are pregnant and think you have depression or another mental condition requiring treatment.
Our guide to sertraline side effects offers an intimidating list of things that can happen. However, as mentioned iitialy, U.S. doctors write over 35 million sertraline prescriptions every year. For the vast majority of users, sertraline treatment will not lead to any major side effects and any initial discomfort will disappear once the drug’s levels in the body have stabilized. If your doctor thinks sertraline could help you overcome depression or anxiety, or help you deal with premature ejaculation, you shouldn’t be afraid to give sertraline a try.
Do your homework by reading up on all possible side effects and discuss them with your doctor(s). During the first weeks of treatment as sertraline levels ramp up in your body, pay close attention to your physical and mental response. Frequently talk with your doctor and family about any changes you observe. Keeping a treatment diary, where you document your body’s response to sertraline may also be something you’d find useful.