Know Your Pain

Zoloft and Prozac Headache

The widely used antidepressants Zoloft and Prozac are known to cause headache in some patients. A drug reaction called 'serotonin syndrome' is behind this effect. Let us explore the connection between antidepressants and headache.

Serotonin is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter. It is derived from the amino acid tryptophan, and widely distributed in the tissues of the nervous system elements. It helps the brain cells and other cells of the nervous system communicate with each other. It works as a chemical messenger and relays signals from one cell to another. The condition of serotonin syndrome happens when there is too much of serotonin in the brain, leading to heightened activity of nerve cells.

Serotonergic activity in the nervous system may lead to headaches, dizziness, sweating, fever, shivering, uncoordinated muscle movements, diarrhea and sometimes even coma. Excess of serotonin in the brain may be caused by certain medications or supplements.

The most common of them are:
SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
MAOI (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors)
And TCA (Tricyclic antidepressants)

The link between headache and antidepressants lies in the SSRIs. SSRIs are used to treat a number of behavioral disorders like depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The most commonly used SSRIs in the US are:

Fluoxetine hydrochloride  (trade name: Prozac)
Fluvoxamine maleate  (trade name: Luvox)
Paroxetine hydrochloride  (trade name: Paxil)
Sertraline hydrochloride  (trade name: Zoloft)
Citalopram hydrobromide  (trade name: Celexa)
Escitalopram oxalate  (trade name: Lexapro)

Zoloft and Prozac feature prominently in this list. SSRIs slow down the uptake of serotonin by the central nervous system, which results in serotonin expanding its biological effects in the brain. Extended amounts of serotonin could result in headache, nausea, lethargy, anorexia, sleep disorders, movement disorders and sweating.

Although Zoloft and Prozac could cause these effects in some patients, it is rare if they are taking only a single medication. Only if there are two or more illnesses involved could there be chances of serotonin syndrome. This is especially true if the two medications work specifically on the serotonin system. Some migraine treatments work on serotonin and such patients who are also on antidepressants always feel the pinch.

Serotonin syndrome could potentially lead to fatal consequences and that is why you should never alter antidepressant dosages yourself. Always consult your doctor and abide by his prescription. You could also get headaches if you are not following the instructions that come with drugs like Zoloft. You are not supposed to drink alcohol while on medication. You must drink lots of water to flush out the toxins from your body. You are also advised to exercise to aid in the recovery process. If you take care of these things you can leave the rest to your doctor.