How Zoloft (Sertraline) Is Used as a Treatment

Interactions, Side Effects, and Cautions

Close up of unrecognizable man taking meds/ supplements / medicine

 

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In This Article

Zoloft (sertraline) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Although it is most commonly used to treat depression, it is also used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Zoloft is sometimes prescribed for social anxiety disorder and other phobias. Learn how it works, possible side effects, and precautions.

How SSRIs Work

SSRIs are known as second-generation antidepressants since they are newer than monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin into neurons in the brain.

Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter, which transmits electrical impulses from one neuron to the next. Normally, serotonin is quickly reabsorbed, but an SSRI lets the serotonin remain in the synaptic gap between neurons for a longer period of time. This allows the chemical to send additional messages to the receiving neuron, which in turn is thought to boost mood.

Dosage

Zoloft is available in a variety of strengths and is only sold by prescription. Both liquid and tablet forms of the medication are available.

Like all medications in its class, Zoloft does not perform optimally until you have taken it consistently for several weeks.

You may or may not quickly begin to feel the effects. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Drug Interactions

Avoid the liquid formulation of Zoloft if you are on Antabuse (disulfiram) because it contains alcohol. Wait at least 14 days after your last dose of any MAOI before beginning sertraline treatment.

Zoloft interacts with a wide range of natural remedies. Ask your doctor before taking tryptophan, St. John's wort, or any other herbal or natural formulation.

In addition, Zoloft interacts with numerous prescription and over-the-counter medications, including NSAID pain relievers, diuretics, stomach medicines, blood thinners, and treatments for certain mental illnesses.

Provide your doctor with a full list of all over-the-counter, prescription, and natural products you use, and do not add anything new without your doctor's approval. Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs while using sertraline.

Cautions

Since 2005, all SSRIs have carried "black box" warnings from the FDA regarding a higher risk for suicidal ideation and behavior in children. The FDA expanded its warning in 2007 to include young adults under the age of 25.

Although many young people successfully take these common medications, informed consent is important. Discuss the benefits and risks with your child's doctor before making a decision.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Your risks from Zoloft may be higher if you have certain medical conditions, including diabetes, low blood sodium levels, seizures, and liver disease. Give your doctor a full medical history of all current and previous illnesses.

Also, let your doctor know if you have a history of drug abuse. If you are currently breastfeeding or pregnant, or if you plan to become pregnant, discuss the risks and benefits of treatment with your physician.

Side Effects

Like all medicines, Zoloft carries a risk for side effects. Common side effects such as headache, sleep difficulties, dry mouth, sweating, and loss of appetite are typically mild and may subside in a few days or weeks.

Let your doctor know right away if you experience more severe side effects such as chest pain, skin rash, vomiting, anxiety, diarrhea, aggression, or confusion.

Withdrawal Symptoms

All SSRIs, including Zoloft, carry a risk for a collection of withdrawal symptoms known as SSRI discontinuation syndrome. Common symptoms include odd electrical sensations known as "brain jolts" or "brain zaps," dizziness, and headaches.

Although the syndrome is not generally considered dangerous, the symptoms can be distressing. Don't lower your dose or suddenly stop taking Zoloft without your doctor's approval.

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