Daily Health

What are the side effects of sertraline?

Depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions are common among the Canadian population. 

A report published by RiskAnalytica in 2011 estimated that over 19 percent of adults in Canada live with a mental illness. So, if you're one of them, you're not alone.

It's just as important to treat your brain as it is your body, as mental illness can have a serious impact on your life. 

Plus, it's understood to be directly linked with physical illness. Taking care of your mind is taking care of your body.

If you and your healthcare practitioner are exploring treatments, you might have heard about sertraline

It's a safe and common medication prescribed to combat things like anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

What is sertraline, and what does it treat?

You might not recognize “sertraline,” but you've probably heard its brand name, Zoloft. Sertraline, the generic name for  Zoloft, is an antidepressant drug that is prescribed to treat several mental health conditions.

As part of a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs), sertraline works by increasing your serotonin level, which, in turn, helps your brain maintain a healthy balance. When prescribed correctly, it may be able to:

  • Decrease fear, anxiety, and unwanted thoughts
  • Lessen the number of panic attacks
  • Reduce the urge to complete repetitive tasks

All of which could help lessen the interruption the condition might have on your daily life. Sertraline is primarily prescribed to treat:

  • Depression
  • Panic attacks from panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

A healthcare practitioner might also prescribe sertraline to treat a severe form of premenstrual syndrome. 

When used to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, sertraline could help with mood swings, breast tenderness, irritability, and bloating.

Side effects of sertraline

Sertraline can be a huge relief to patients that use it. But it's not without potential side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased sweating
  • Irritation
  • Decreased libido or changes in sexual behaviour

You might experience a side effect when you first start sertraline, but it should go away once your body is used to it.

If side effects persist for a long period or you experience serious side effects, you should call your healthcare practitioner immediately. These include:

  • Muscle cramping or weakness
  • Shaking
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Decreased interest in sex or sexual ability
  • Find that you’re easily bruising or bleeding
  • Irregular vomit or stools
  • Eye redness, pain or swelling
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat 
  • Fainting
  • Changes in vision or the dilation of your pupils

Does sertraline have long-term side effects?

When used as directed by your healthcare practitioner, sertraline is considered to be safe and effective. There are no known long-term side effects or problems associated with its use.

How to use sertraline

Sertraline should be taken as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

It's also recommended that you read all information provided by your pharmacist and ask any questions you have before you start taking it.

Sertraline can be prescribed in both oral and liquid forms. 

Oral sertraline tablets must be taken whole, with no crushing or chewing. Liquid sertraline is very potent and needs to be mixed with a specific liquid to be taken safely.

The particular dose of sertraline you take daily will depend on various factors, including the condition you're trying to treat and the severity of it. 

A daily dose of between 50 mg and 200 mg of oral sertraline is most effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder. For social anxiety disorder, the daily dosage starts at 25 mg.

Sertraline, like other antidepressant medications, should not be stopped without consulting your healthcare practitioner. 

Even if you feel better. Depending on your dose, you might need to slowly reduce the dosage before stopping it completely.

How long does it take for sertraline to work?

Sertraline doesn’t work immediately. It can take four to eight weeks (sometimes even longer) for you to feel the full effect. Sertraline is usually prescribed for a year or longer, depending on the condition it’s treating.

Who can and cannot take sertraline?

Sertraline is safe and effective for many patients, but it’s not the solution for everyone. You should not take it if you have:

  • glaucoma
  • epilepsy
  • an allergic reaction to sertraline
  • a heart problem

Or if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • Trying to conceive
  • Breastfeeding

Sertraline may also make it more difficult for a diabetic to stabilize their blood sugar. And while children between six and 17 can take it, it should only be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Prescriptions you should not use with sertraline?

Sertraline doesn't always play well with other drugs. There’s a relatively long list of other drug interactions you should avoid while taking it, including:

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) like isocarboxazid, selegiline, tranylcypromine, phenelzine, or rasagiline
  • Other medications that increase serotonin levels, such as triptans, pain medications like tramadol, or the antibiotic linezolid, could increase your risk of serotonin syndrome
  • When taken with medications that can cause bleeding, such as ibuprofen, aspirin or warfarin, sertraline could increase their effects
  • Disulfiram should not be taken with liquid sertraline since the concentrate has alcohol in it
  • Pimozide

It's important to discuss any medications that you are currently taking with your healthcare practitioner before starting sertraline.

What happens if I overdose on Sertraline?

You don’t want to overdose on any medication. But, as far as overdoses go, sertraline is relatively safe. Those who have experienced a sertraline overdose report:

  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Hyperreflexia
  • Myoclonus
  • Creatine kinase elevation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In extreme but rare cases, an overdose could lead to serotonin syndrome, seizures, and even death.

What happens if I miss a dose of sertraline?

While you don’t want to miss a dose of your sertraline (hello, daily reminders!), it happens to the best of us. 

If you forget a dose, take it as soon as you remember – unless it’s almost time for your next one. You don't want to take a double dose of sertraline. So, if your next one is right around the corner, skip it and continue with your regular schedule.

For most people, symptoms of a skipped dose are mild, if any. However, some have reported experiencing nausea, imbalance, hyperarousal, or sensory disturbances. 

What should I avoid while taking sertraline?

While you’re taking sertraline, you’ll want to avoid consuming alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, marijuana, and cola drinks. Pairing these with your medication could increase the side effects you experience and decrease its benefits.

What other medicines may interact with sertraline?

If your healthcare practitioner has prescribed sertraline, it's because they believe the benefits outweigh any side effects you might experience. 

There are drug interactions with sertraline that you want to completely avoid, but there also might be times when your healthcare practitioner prescribes it despite the risk.

Those medications could include:

  • Pimozide
  • Drugs that can cause bleeding or bruising like blood thinners, ibuprofen or clopidogrel
  • MOA inhibitors
  • Other drugs that increase serotonin

Side effects of sertraline FAQs

Can sertraline damage your brain?

While there is no evidence that sertraline can damage your brain when used properly, you should not take it if it is not prescribed by your healthcare practitioner. There is some speculation that it could harm nondepressed brains.

Do you get drunk faster on sertraline?

You want to avoid drinking alcohol while taking sertraline. It is designed to interact with your brain, which can change your cognitive process. Likewise, alcohol also affects your brain, and the combination of the two could be dangerous.

It’s believed that alcohol intensifies the side effects of sertraline. With both in your system, you could experience more dizziness, have a harder time concentrating, and feel more tired.

Is sertraline a strong antidepressant?

Sertraline is considered to be one of the best choices of antidepressants, particularly when it comes to major depression. However, not all bodies are the same – you and your healthcare practitioner will have to figure out the best medication and dose for you.

Is sertraline good for anxiety?

Sertraline can be prescribed to treat social anxiety.

What's the best time of day to take Zoloft?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer for when to take Zoloft. It’s often recommended that you take it in the morning or the evening, but consistency is what’s important. 

You want to make sure that you take your prescription at the same time every day.

It might take you a bit to figure out when the best time to take it is. You’ll want to consider what symptoms, if any, you experience. For example, if you find that it makes you drowsy, before bed might be the best option. 

If you have questions about when you should take your medication, discuss it with your healthcare practitioner.

When should I increase sertraline?

You should only increase your sertraline if your healthcare practitioner instructs you to. 

Your healthcare practitioner may start you on a dose lower than intended and ask you to increase it over a period of time. 

This could help reduce the side effects experienced.

Why is sertraline making me so tired?

Drowsiness is a possible side effect of Sertraline, so you may feel tired while using it. 

This side effect often goes away after your body is used to the medication. 

But if you are experiencing this side effect, you’ll want to avoid driving vehicles or operating other heavy machinery (you know, like a forklift).

Combining this antidepressant with other fatigue-inducing medications or alcohol can also add to your drowsiness. 

Drowsiness and fatigue are also symptoms of depression. If you are taking sertraline to treat depression, the medication combined with your symptoms might make you feel more fatigued.

To learn more about sertraline and other possible options, speak to a healthcare practitioner at Felix today.

Felix Team
Updated on:
February 19, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Tanja Vlahovich
Family Physician, MD, CCFP (EM)

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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