If you've been thinking about going on antidepressants or adjusting your dosage, chances are you've heard about the holy trinity of possible antidepressant side affects: weight gain, fatigue and libido problems. These side effects are the most well-known because they're the ones that cause the most complaints among sufferers. But there are other side affects of antidepressant medication that are common but rarely talked about — and they can seem utterly bizarre when you're experiencing them.
The science of side affects can be difficult to understand. But it seems, in large part, that the range and degree of antidepressant side affects you'll experience is determined by your genetics. Scientists are now postulating that genetic testing may actually help users find the right antidepressant with the fewest side effects, but those days are still pretty far off — so for now, if you're trying a new medication, the only way to find out what side effects will impact you is to keep a close watch on what you personally are experiencing.
Though these 7 side effects are common and not harmful, the usual rules still apply: if side effects persist after the usual antidepressant adjustment period (normally several weeks) and are seriously problematic for you, you need to see your doctor and consider your options. I also have to point out that not every thing that happens to you can be blamed on your antidepressants; you probably didn't get a wart from them, for instance.
But that blurry vision you're suddenly experiencing? Yeah, maybe you got that from your new meds. So don't panic — you're just undergoing perfectly normal side effects of antidepressants that nobody seems to talk about.
1. Brain Zaps
If you're lowering a dose or coming off antidepressants entirely, chances are you'll experience brain zaps, which are like electrical shocks in your head; other names for the feeling include brain shocks or shivers. It feels as if somebody's let off a tiny firework in your skull. It's bizarre, but usually not particularly distressing, and not harmful. Not much is known about it, but it seems to be caused by your neural circuits adapting to their new chemical situation.
2. Night Sweats
It's estimated that between eight and 22 percent of antidepressant users experience the glory that is night sweats — and yet, nobody seems to talk about the phenomenon. Probably because it's sticky and unpleasant. We're not entirely sure why it happens, but one current theory is that antidepressants activate the thermoregulatory center of the brain, causing the body to over-regulate its own temperature — leaving you soaked in sweat.
This is an interesting one: antidepressants can impact our bowels so intensely that we can't possibly blame all that gas on the dog. Antidepressants have been associated with farts, bloating and digestion problems in general. But certain antidepressants are actually prescribed to people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), to reduce their stomach cramps and aches, too — so it goes both ways.
Some types of antidepressants — tricyclics, MAOIS and SNRIs — are associated with dizziness and issues with balance and the inner ear. Why? We're not sure. Vertigo usually happens when the inner ear doesn't get enough blood, but we don't think that these drugs create a problem with the inner ear itself — rather, it seems like they mess with the part of the nervous system that processes information about balance.
5. Bizarre Dreams
It may seem far-fetched that an antidepressant could actually affect the content of your dreams, but it ain't science fiction — it's true. Many antidepressants impact sleep patterns, and what's more, different ones do different things. A study found that SSRIs and SNRIs increase dream intensity and nightmare frequency, while people taking tricyclic antidepressants report happier dreams and were more able to remember their dreams in the morning.
6. Blurred Vision
Blurred vision appears to be a side affect of one kind of antidepressant in particular: the tricyclic family. The probable cause? These drugs fiddle with the uptake of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps to regulate the amount of moisture in the eye via contractions of the eye muscles. If the neurotransmitter isn't working properly, your eyes will dry out, potentially blurring your vision in the process.
7. Dry Mouth
Feel like you've got a mouth full of cotton wool? It's nothing to worry about: this problem has the same cause as blurred vision. Lessened uptake of the acetylcholine neurotransmitter also inhibits the proper function of your salivary glands, reducing the amount of saliva in your mouth. If you've just started tricyclic antidepressants and your mouth feels like sandpaper, try cutting out caffeine, and use products designed to help dry mouths, like mouthwashes and artificial saliva substitutes.
So, for once in your life, being farty, dizzy, and sweaty is totally normal. Enjoy it!