Sertraline Uses, Side Effects – What You Need To Know

Written by Dr. Diana Rangaves, PharmD, RPh

NowRx Contributor

sertraline medication

Sertraline, also known as Zoloft, is a prescription medication used to treat a variety of conditions related to depression and anxiety.

It belongs to a class of antidepressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and works by increasing the amounts of serotonin in our brains – a chemical messenger believed to act as a mood stabilizer.

Let’s dive in and take a look at Sertraline.

What is Sertraline?

Sertraline is a drug classified under the category of SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It is an antidepressant, which works by trying to rebalance our brain chemicals that may be out of sync.

Many doctors may prescribe this drug to patients who suffer from high anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or depression symptoms.

Typically, sertraline comes in the form of an oral tablet under the brand name Zoloft. However for those that have difficulty swallowing it also comes in an oral solution. You may also be able to purchase it under its generic name at a lower cost. However, the generic forms might not be available in the required form or strength.

Sertraline can help individuals work through depression along with talk therapy. Since it is only available through a prescription, you must consult a health care provider to take sertraline. The advantage of sertraline is that it potentially has fewer adverse effects as compared to previous medications in this therapeutic class.

What is Sertraline Used for?

The main use of sertraline is for treating:

  • OCD (urge to repeat tasks several times)
  • PTSD (negative psychological symptoms developed after a disturbing or scary experience)
  • Major depressive disorders
  • Social anxiety disorders (excessive fear of social interaction)
  • Panic disorder (attacks of worry and fear)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (symptoms include mood swings, breast sensitivity, bloating, crankiness, etc.)

Simply put, sertraline works by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a natural chemical that helps maintain neurotransmitter and mental balance in a person’s thoughts and moods. 

At times, a medical professional may prescribe this drug with other forms of medications as a combination therapy.

How Long Does it Take for Sertraline to Work?

The length of time it takes for the effects of Sertraline to become apparent is 4 to 6 weeks on average. However, the type of condition, the prescribed dosage, and the severity of the situation all affect how long it will take to show results. Additionally, the form of the drug, i.e., a tablet or a solution, matters.

A doctor will usually prescribe the dosage, form of drug, and the frequency of usage based on factors such as: 

  • The age of the patient 
  • The kind of condition 
  • The severity of the condition
  • Other medical conditions
  • Reaction to the initial dose

As we age, our kidneys might not be at full-functioning capacity. As a result, the body may handle drugs like sertraline slower, leading to a delayed result. The longer process also increases the likelihood of side effects. Therefore, doctors may prescribe lower doses or a customized dosage schedule based on age. 

Sertraline Side Effects

Several possible side effects from taking sertraline exist. However, you should seek medical assistance at once if the following allergic reactions occur:

  • Skin rashes or hives (regardless of any joint pain or fever)
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Swelling in the face, tongue, throat, or lips

The following symptoms are somewhat common for anyone using sertraline: 

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • A change in sleeping cycle
  • Insomnia
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sexual issues, including decreased libido
  • Shaking, tremors
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue

Sertraline is not usually given to anybody under the age of 18. However, there might be times when a doctor has to prescribe it to a minor.

Side effects for minors may include heavy menstrual bleeding, nosebleeds, or urine leakage, among others. If any of the side effects above last for a long time or get too severe, for both adults and minors, the patient should seek medical attention. 

If someone experiences the following behavioral side effects after taking sertraline, they should call emergency medical services right away:

  • Harmful impulses
  • Aggressiveness
  • Suicidal thoughts or outright attempts
  • Worsened depression
  • Restlessness 
  • Irritability
  • Manic episodes
  • Serotonin syndrome

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Pay attention to any side effects and report them to a doctor in case they worsen or another issue arises. 

Is Sertraline a Controlled Substance?

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), sertraline is not on the list of controlled substances. 

A controlled substance is under tight control by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a government entity. The restrictions are due to their potential of causing addiction, which may lead to drug abuse, misuse, and withdrawal. With such substances, the government mandates the manufacturing, usage, handling, storage, and distribution of the drug. A few controlled substances with medical uses include Valium and Ritalin, but not sertraline in either the brand or generic form. 

Can You Overdose on Sertraline?

It is possible to overdose on sertraline, in which case the individual could collapse, experience seizures, have issues breathing, or lose consciousness. In this case, you should contact Poison Control or medical personnel right away.

Additionally, other symptoms of an overdose include: 

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Severe stiffness in the muscles
  • Twitching
  • Shivering

Questions About Sertraline

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