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Fact Checked

What is Zoloft?

According to a statement made by the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the most common disability in the world. Also, it is estimated by the WHO that up to 75 percent of people with depression remain undiagnosed. There can be challenges in recognizing the symptoms of depression because it affects people in different ways. There are many types of depression, and the two most common types are major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder. Major depression is characterized by depressive symptoms that last every day for two weeks, while persistent depression is defined as having symptoms of depression that last for at least two years. Depression must be treated professionally to help the person overcome their symptoms and live normally. 

How to recognize if you are being affected by depression? There are certain common symptoms associated with being depressed. Feeling sad is the most well known symptom of depression, but it is only one of many symptoms. Depression can include any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, down or empty
  • Pessimistic outlook or feeling hopeless
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Loss of interest in activities that used evoke excitement
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Disruption of sleep patterns such as difficulty in falling asleep, not being able to stay asleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Feeling irritable
  • Chronic pain without an apparent physical cause that is not helped by treatment

Depression can be caused by many factors such as a family history of the problem, a traumatic event, significant life changes, certain medications, and medical issues like chronic pain or long-term diseases. Whatever the cause of depression, getting treatment is important and usually involves a combination of medication and therapy. 

Zoloft is characterized as being one of the most popular prescription drugs used to treat depression. If you have been recently diagnosed with depression and are given Zoloft, you may want to know how the medication works, what common side effects are, and any risks associated with taking it. Read on to find out these details. 

What is Zoloft? 

Often confused with the drug Prozac, Pfizer initially developed the brand name medication, and it was FDA-approved in 1991. So what is the difference between Zoloft vs Prozac? Zoloft, also known as the generic antidepressant drug sertraline, is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat depression and several related conditions in adults. 

How does Zoloft work? 

Zoloft belongs to the class of drugs named the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are widely utilized to treat anxiety and depression. One of the significant biological causes of depression is thought to be due to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain. SSRI medication works by reducing the amount of serotonin reabsorbed into neurons, allowing their accumulation within the brain. This increases serotonin-mediated neurotransmission, which reduces symptoms of depression and obsessive behavior while elevating feelings of happiness. Additionally, Zoloft is one of the few SSRIs that can exert an effect on dopamine as well. The medication prevents the reuptake of dopamine into neurons, thereby increasing dopamine concentration in the brain, decreasing symptoms of depression. 

What is Zoloft used for?  

While Zoloft is most well known for its use in treating depression, other indications are used for it.  The SSRI antidepressant assists in treating the following conditions:

Major Depressive Disorder 

The leading cause of disability within the country is major depressive disorder being the most commonly discovered in individuals between the ages of 15 and 44. The condition is characterized by feelings of intense sadness or a low mood for two continuous weeks. Adults aged 18 years or older usually begin with a typical Zoloft dosage of  50 mg a day. The maximum dose that can be taken to treat this condition is 200 mg. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD affects 2.2 million Americans. One-third of all adults who have OCD develop the condition in childhood. People with OCD cultivate obsessions that can cause anxiety and distress. Compulsions are actions that are carried out by a person with OCD with the intention of easing mental distress or anxiety. Zoloft is a medication approved for the treatment of OCD in both adults and children above the age of six. The recommended dose of Zoloft for adults treating OCD starts at 50 mg. Children with OCD can take 25 mg of Zoloft once a day. Notably, OCD is the only condition for which Zoloft is approved for use in children. 

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a mental illness involving sudden panic attacks that happen unexpectedly, along with a fear of recurring attacks. The condition affects approximately 6 million people in the country and usually starts after the age of 20. Zoloft can treat panic disorder in adults with the initial dose beginning at 25 mg. The dose is gradually adjusted according to how the individual responds. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD occurs in people who have undergone a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, personal assault like rape, serious accident, death of a loved one and war. The condition can cause the affected individual to develop depression or anxiety that lasts for months to years. Approximately 3.5 percent of the population in the country is estimated to suffer from PTSD. Zoloft is effective in treating PTSD in adults starting at 25 mg a day. The dose is usually increased to 50 mg a day. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

This condition is a severe type of PMS that causes extreme mood swings and affects physical behavior. When a person experiences premenstrual dysphoric syndrome, they may feel hopeless, irritable and depressed while also being unable to work. Symptoms usually resolve once menstruation begins. Zoloft is used at 50 mg a day throughout the menstrual cycle for the treatment of this condition. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety can be described as a fear of being put in social situations. People with social anxiety are usually scared of being judged, rejected or negatively perceived. The typical dosage of Zoloft for treating social anxiety disorder starts at 25 mg a day and is generally increased to 50 mg after one week. 

How to take Zoloft

If you suffer from any of the above conditions, take Zoloft exactly as prescribed by your doctor. The medication can be taken with or without food once a day. Importantly, Zoloft is indicated for long-term use and should not be stopped suddenly without consulting your doctor. If you stop taking the drug abruptly, you could develop severe withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, headache, sweating, trouble sleeping and feelings of electric shock. You may not feel the effect of taking Zoloft immediately, and it can take up to four weeks once you start taking it to feel better. 

Side effects 

Like all prescription drugs, Zoloft has side effects that may occur while taking the medication. Compared to other drugs within the same class, Zoloft is associated with slightly more side effects. The most common side effects are:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased sex drive or sexual dysfunction

Additionally, the following more serious side effects can also occur. 

  • The FDA has issued a black box warning for Zoloft that the drug may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior in children, teenagers and young adults.  
  • Serotonin syndrome may occur if serotonin levels become too high. This condition is a life-threatening condition that can cause hallucinations, coma, seizures, fast heart rate, dizziness, and blood pressure changes. 
  • A severe allergic reaction can occur when taking Zoloft for the first time.
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Manic episodes
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Low sodium levels
  • Vision changes

Zoloft is also a pregnancy category C drug, meaning it is not judged safe to be taken while pregnant. 

Drug interactions 

Zoloft should not be taken in combination with the following drugs or an adverse reaction could occur:

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome and should not be used for 14 days before or after taking Zoloft. 
  • Linezolid 
  • Intravenous methylene blue can also increase the risk of serotonin syndrome if used while on Zoloft.
  • Pimozide, in combination with Zoloft, can cause serious heart problems. 

Other drugs that can increase the severity of side effects include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen
  • Triptans
  • Lithium
  • Cimetidine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline
  • Serotonergic medications like tramadol or St. John’s wort

How much does Zoloft cost?

The average price of brand name Zoloft is expensive. Still, since generic sertraline is readily available, this provides a more affordable option to purchase the drug for a cash price of approximately $40 for 30 tablets of 100 mg. Most health insurance plans including 100 percent of Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans cover the cost of Zoloft. This is convenient for people who have prescription drug coverage. For those who do not, there are still ways to save on Zoloft or its generics by using a prescription drug discount card, such as the free card available from USA Rx. You can save up to an average of 46 percent off the retail price of either Zoloft or sertraline with the card. Simply sign up for the discount card online and present it at more than 90 percent of pharmacies across the nation, such as Walgreens, Rite Aid or CVS, to save on Zoloft. 

Published September 25th, 2020 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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