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Antidepressants are a class of drugs used for depression. They also treat anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, chronic pain, bedwetting, and nerve pain. What is prescribed will depend on which chemicals in the brain need to be affected and also on what other medications the patient is taking.

Depending on the type of drug, either norepinephrine, serotonin, or dopamine, all chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are affected. These chemicals enable the nerve cells to communicate with one another and levels affect mood, behavior, sleep patterns, memory, appetite, alertness, focus, muscle contraction, organ system function, addiction, etc.

There are three types of antidepressants:

  1. MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are drugs that prevent an enzyme from breaking down the brain chemicals thus keeping the levels higher and enabling normal functioning. One of the first types of antidepressants developed, MAOIs have possible food and drug interactions that require monitoring. They cannot be taken with foods rich in tyramine such as cheese, chocolate or alcohol as severe high blood pressure may result. Other drugs that also suppress the same enzyme (certain antibiotics) should not be taken in combination with MAOIs. Side effects may include headache, insomnia, dizziness, swelling of the lower legs, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain. The drug, Nardil, is an example of this type.
  2. Tricyclics are drugs that boost the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. Causing more side effects than the other antidepressants, they are prescribed less often, including weight gain, dizziness, nausea, constipation, urinary difficulty, sensitivity to the sun, confusion, palpitations, sweating, tremors and even seizures. Tofranil, is this type of drug.
  3. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are drugs that increase serotonin. Side effects are less common than the other two types but should still be monitored, especially when used in combination with warfarin treatment (blood thinning), supplements (i.e., St. John’s Wort) or other drugs that also raise serotonin levels. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and weight fluctuations are possible. Cymbalta, is an example of this type of drug.
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