Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medications that are prescribed to treat problems with depression and anxiety. While they are effective in many cases, they’re also associated with a wide range of side effects. Some of these side effects can be severe and life-threatening, which is why both patients and doctors must understand their risks in comparison to the benefits they offer.
SSRIs are often prescribed to people with suicidal thoughts, which is a feature of many types of psychiatric disorders. For reasons that are not yet widely understood, these medications can actually increase a person’s risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts. This risk is so serious that in 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration opted to include a black box warning regarding suicide risks on SSRIs. Teens, kids, and young adults are particularly vulnerable to suicidal ideation when taking antidepressants.
SSRIs can also pose issues when a person is taking another drug at the same time. Some drugs are metabolized by the liver in similar ways, which leads to health issues. There is also a risk of serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by fever, high blood pressure, sweating, and accelerated heart rate. People with bipolar disorders have significant risk when prescribed an SSRI in conjunction with lithium, which is a mood-stabilizing drug.
Pregnant and nursing women should also exercise caution when taking antidepressants. While good mental health is important for both children and their mothers, doctors must consider the risk to the unborn baby when prescribing these drugs. For instance, taking SSRIs while pregnant is associated with low birth weight and premature births, both of which can cause numerous complications.