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Anxiety-panic disorders health centre

Antidepressants

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have anxiety disorder. It tells you about antidepressants, a treatment used for anxiety disorder. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. If you have anxiety disorder, some antidepressants can help. But they have side effects and some of them can be serious. And there are many things we don't know about antidepressants. We don't know:

  • Which antidepressants work best

  • Whether antidepressants work better than talking treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy

  • Whether antidepressants work better than a drug called buspirone

  • How likely it is that your symptoms will come back when you stop treatment.

Some types of antidepressant also work for children and teenagers with anxiety disorder. But antidepressants have been linked to serious side effects in children and teenagers. Doctors are advised to be cautious about prescribing antidepressants for those under 18.

What are they?

Antidepressants were originally used to treat people with depression. Doctors noticed that these drugs also seemed to lessen feelings of anxiety. We now know that some antidepressants help people with anxiety disorder.

There are many antidepressants. The antidepressants (and their brand names) that are generally used to treat anxiety disorder are:

Another antidepressant that reduces anxiety is called opipramol, but it isn't available in the UK.

Antidepressants are divided into groups, depending on their chemical makeup and how they work. All antidepressants increase the amounts of chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help carry messages between brain cells.

  • Imipramine and opipramol are from a group called tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants affect several different neurotransmitters.

  • Paroxetine, sertraline, and escitalopram belong to a group of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs are similar to tricyclic antidepressants, but affect only one neurotransmitter called serotonin.

  • Venlafaxineand duloxetine are from a group called serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These drugs increase levels of two neurotransmitters called serotonin and noradrenaline.

To learn more, see How antidepressants work.

Which antidepressant should I take?

Your doctor will help you choose the antidepressant that suits you best. Even if you have side effects, don't stop taking your medicine suddenly unless your doctor tells you to. If you stop taking one of these drugs suddenly, you may get withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, and a return of your anxiety.

Guidelines for doctors say that if you and your doctor decide on antidepressants you should be prescribed an SSRI (such as sertraline). [18] If the SSRI doesn't help, your doctor may decide to try another SSRI, or a SNRI (such as venlafaxine). If antidepressants don't work for you, you may be offered a different type of medication called pregabalin.

Last Updated: December 17, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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