Zoloft Side Effects And Warnings

Learn Facts About Zoloft, its Side Effects, and Associated Risks

Serotonin Syndrome Caused by Zoloft

Serotonin Syndrome Caused by Zoloft

Serotonin syndrome is a disorder caused by the accumulation of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a chemical produced by our bodies and it helps brain cells communicate with one another. Even though low levels of serotonin play a major role in depression, too much of this substance can affect your nerve cell activity causing a serious collection of symptoms called serotonin syndrome.

The most common symptoms experienced in serotonin syndrome are confusion, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, shivering and heavy sweating[1]. If the symptoms aggravate and you experience high fever and seizures, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible, because serotonin syndrome is potentially lethal. Serotonin syndrome usually occurs after taking medication that affects your serotonin levels such as antidepressants or recreational drugs like LSD, ecstasy, or cocaine[2]. Excessive accumulation of serotonin in your body can also be caused by taking tobacco-addiction medication such as Wellbutrin or Zyban, anti-migraine medications such as Imitrex or Nardil, pain medications like Demerol or Axert and herbal supplements with antidepressant effects such as St. John's wort, ginseng and nutmeg.

Zoloft is an antidepressant classified as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake) and it is prescribed to treat depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and premenstrual syndrome. SSRIs are substances that help your brain absorb serotonin slower by keeping it in high levels between neurons for a longer period of time[3]. This in turn improves mood and helps treat depression and related ailments.

There is no test to establish a diagnosis for serotonin syndrome, but you can ask your clinician about specific symptoms. Moreover, he/she should consider levels of any drug you are using and check for signs of infection. There are also certain tests you can take in order to help your doctor rule out other causes of your symptoms. They include blood and urine tests, spinal tap, computerized tomography, and chest X-rays. Usually people suffering from this disorder are hospitalized and put under treatment. Hydration is often maintained with intravenous fluids to remove the drug causing high serotonin levels and also benzodiazepines (Valium or Ativan) to treat seizures and muscle stiffness[4].

Other possible treatments are cyproheptadine which is a drug that blocks serotonin production. Drug such as Brevibloc and Nitropress are often used to reduce blood pressure, as well as adrenaline for patients with low blood pressure. If you suffer from a milder form of serotonin syndrome you may only be kept under observation because serotonin levels usually drop within 48 hours of stopping the medication.

When it comes to risk factors, people who recently increased the dose of a drug that increases serotonin levels are more prone to this disease. Also, people who take herbal supplements or illicit drugs known to increase serotonin levels are more likely to develop serotonin syndrome. If left untreated, this disorder often leads to death because it affects the brain cells. Moreover, unconsciousness and seizures often appear before death occurs in severe cases of serotonin syndrome.

1. Parrot A., "Recreational Ecstasy/MDMA, the serotonin syndrome, and serotonergic neurotoxicity", 2002

2. Ford M., "Clinical Toxicology" 1st edition, Philadelphia, 2001

3. Crivineanu M., Nicorescu V., Ed. Printech, "Basis of Pharmacology", 2016

4. Levine M., Ruha A., "Antidepressants. In: Marx J., ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice", 2013