A Complete Guide to Sertraline Side Effects

A Complete Guide to Sertraline Side Effects

With tens of millions of prescriptions in the United States alone, sertraline is a widely used SSRI medication on the market. Safe and effective, sertraline has been used since the 1990s by tens of millions of people every year without major side effects. 

However, like all SSRIs, sertraline side effects do exist, and you should be aware of them before you consider treatment.

Like other SSRIs, most sertraline side effects occur in the first few weeks of treatment and tend to disappear over time. However, some can last for several months or occur at any time while using the medication.

Although rare, it’s possible to experience several more serious side effects if you use sertraline to treat depression, anxiety or any other condition.   

Below, we’ve listed the common and uncommon side effects of sertraline. We’ve also linked to relevant studies and other data to provide some more context on how common or uncommon these side effects really are.

Common Sertraline Side Effects

Sertraline belongs to a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Like other SSRIs, it can cause a range of mild side effects that typically occur during the first few weeks of treatment. We’ve listed these common side effects below.

Fatigue and Tiredness

Fatigue and tiredness are two of the most common side effects of sertraline, as well as several other SSRIs.

If you’re using sertraline to treat depression, fatigue and tiredness from the medication can also be compounded by the effects of depression on your mood. It’s very common to feel a little low in energy during the first few weeks of taking sertraline.

Dealing with fatigue and tiredness from sertraline can be a frustrating experience, but it usually passes. As the medication reaches a steady state in your body, you’ll generally start to notice a less pronounced effect on your energy levels before this side effect fades completely.

If you have persistent fatigue or tiredness after starting sertraline that doesn’t disappear within one month, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider.

Sexual Side Effects

Sertraline and other SSRIs can cause a variety of sexual side effects, from difficulty achieving orgrasm, to a decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.

Sexual side effects are some of the most common side effects of sertraline and other commonly used SSRI medications. 

According to a review of certain studies, between 40 percent and 65 percent of people who take SSRIs experience some side effects related to sexual desire and performance.

It’s worth noting the research did find that of the SSRIs, sertraline has one of the lower likelihoods of affecting sexual function.

These side effects can affect both men and women. In men, one of the most common side effects is a higher level of difficulty achieving orgasm and ejaculating. Some men also experience a lower general level of interest in sex after using SSRIs such as sertraline.

In women, the most common sexual side effect of sertraline and other SSRIs is a lower level of interest in sex.

Like many other side effects of sertraline, sexual side effects can often fade over time as your body gets used to the medication. If persistent, sexual side effects can be treated by adjusting your dosage or switching to a different medication.

Sleep Disturbances

Insomnia and a general reduction in sleep quality are both common side effects of SSRIs and other antidepressants. 

People who use sertraline may find it more difficult than normal to fall asleep, or find themselves waking up frequently throughout the night. Sertraline can also cause you to be more sleepy than usual.

While it doesn’t list the effects of sertraline specifically, a 2017 review of research literature notes that it’s common for antidepressants to affect sleep. 

This review found that the prevalence of insomnia attributed to treatment with SSRIs was 17 percent compared to nine percent taking placebo. 

Like many other SSRI side effects, the study states that these effects are most common in the short term.

There are several ways to deal with sleep disturbances  from sertraline. The first is to wait it out, as this side effect tends to fade away as the medication reaches a steady state in your body. It’s also possible to take sertraline in the morning to reduce its concentration by the time you sleep.

Finally, it’s important to avoid caffeine and other stimulants that could prevent you from falling asleep in a normal amount of time. Try to restrict your consumption of coffee, caffeinated soda and energy drinks to before noon to avoid them affecting you when it’s time to fall asleep.

Dizziness

It’s not uncommon to feel dizzy during the first few weeks of using sertraline. Like other common side effects, this is thought to be a result of your body adjusting to the medication. Dizziness is a short-term side effect of sertraline that usually doesn’t persist for longer than two to four weeks.

Interestingly, sertraline is linked to lower levels of dizziness in the long term in studies, indicating that it could help you feel less dizzy once the medication reaches a steady state in your body.

If you notice frequent dizziness or lightheadedness after using sertraline that lasts for more than four weeks, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider. This side effect, like most, may managed by using a lower dose of the medication. However, if this side effect doesn't get better after a few weeks, speak to your healthcare provider.

Weight Gain or Weight Loss

Sertraline and other SSRIs are associated with weight fluctuation, although not all people who take these medications will gain or lose weight.

Around 25 percent of people who use antidepressants gain weight while on their medication. Most of the weight gain caused by antidepressants is mild, with a 2017 study from Australia finding that, on average, high-dosage antidepressant users gain 0.28kg (about 0.6lbs) per year.

In a 2018 UK study, researchers concluded that antidepressants may contribute to a long-term increased risk of weight gain. Another study found that antidepressant use is associated with a higher total calorie intake.

However, a known side effect of sertraline (discussed more in-depth below) is, in fact, reduced appetite. There’s also some research out there to suggest that — at least in the short term — sertraline may actually cause you to lose weight. Especially if you’re diabetic. 

In one smaller study involving 33 patients with type 2 diabetes, for instance, researchers found at the end of the 12-week observation period a decrease in overall weight, body mass index and waist circumference, overall. 

If you’re concerned about weight gain or weight loss from sertraline, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. Most of the time, you can avoid changes in your body mass and composition by monitoring your food intake and maintaining your pre-treatment eating habits while using sertraline.

Reduced Appetite

Sertraline could potentially cause you to have a reduced appetite.

Like other side effects of sertraline, this is usually temporary and should wear off after the first few weeks on the medication. 

The key to avoiding weight loss from sertraline is to talk to your healthcare provider and monitor your food intake. By staying consistent with your eating habits and activity level, it’s easier to maintain your body mass and composition while using sertraline or any other SSRI.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common side effect of sertraline. In comparative studies of sertraline and other SSRIs, about 14 percent  of people who were prescribed sertraline at a typical dose experienced diarrhea compared to those on other SSRIs.

Like many other side effects, diarrhea usually occurs in the first few weeks of treatment. Most of the time, diarrhea becomes less frequent and disappears completely as your body adjusts to the medication and your dosage of sertraline reaches a steady state.

If you have persistent diarrhea from sertraline, the best approach is to contact your healthcare provider. This side effect, like others, may often be managed by reducing your dosage of sertraline or switching to a different antidepressant, such as paroxetine or fluoxetine, which are both less likely to cause diarrhea.

Headaches

It’s possible that you will  experience headaches after you start using sertraline, particularly in the first few weeks of treatment. Like other common side effects, headaches usually disappear after two to four weeks of use as the medication reaches a steady state in your body.  

The link between sertraline and headaches is a complicated one. 

While headaches have been reported to be a side effect of taking sertraline, one study has shown sertraline to be effective in treating chronic tension-type headaches.

While some painkillers can interact with sertraline, it’s safe to take Tylenol® if you experience headaches after starting sertraline. 

You should be aware though that Tylenol may reduce the effectiveness of sertraline in your body.  It is important to discuss what medications you’re taking with your healthcare provider before you start on sertraline

If you have persistent or severe headaches from sertraline that don’t improve over time, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. Simple changes to your sertraline usage such as taking your medication at a different time of day or reducing your dosage can help to limit or get rid of headaches.

Dry Mouth

Finally, dry mouth is a common side effect of sertraline and other antidepressants. While there’s no clear reason for this, researchers believe that the effects of sertraline and other SSRIs on the brain can also affect your gastrointestinal system.

Studies show that between 35 percent and 46 percent of people prescribed antidepressants experience some level of dry mouth. Although SSRIs like sertraline are less likely to cause dry mouth than other antidepressants  (in studies, it affected about 14 percent of people), it’s still fairly common.

There are several ways to treat dry mouth from sertraline. Like other side effects, dry mouth is often temporary, meaning it should go away on its own over the course of several weeks as the medication reaches a steady state in your body.

It’s also possible to reduce the severity of dry mouth by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, any spicy foods and other substances that can cause dehydration. Sugar-free gums can also help to stimulate saliva production and keep your mouth and throat properly hydrated. 

It is also recommended that you avoid using mouthwash products that contain alcohol as they can make the problem worse.

Finally, if you have persistent dry mouth from sertraline, you should talk to your healthcare provider. Just like many other side effects of sertraline, dry mouth can often be avoided by adjusting your dosage or switching to a different SSRI medication.  

Serious Side Effects of Sertraline

People who use sertraline may not  experience any side effects, or may only experience a few of the mild side effects listed above. However, it’s also possible for sertraline to cause a variety of potentially serious effects in some users.

Below, we’ve listed some of the serious potential side effects of sertraline. If you experience any of these side effects, you should contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible for medical assistance.

Fainting and Extreme Dizziness

Although not frequently reported, fainting is a potential side effect of sertraline. A small percentage of people who use sertraline may also experience severe dizziness and lightheadedness. 

If you feel faint, weak or severely dizzy after taking sertraline, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.

Chest Pain

A small number of people who use sertraline have reported severe chest pain after taking the medication.

In one study, an elderly woman experienced severe, crushing chest pain after taking a normal dose of sertraline. The woman was hospitalized and received treatment using a range of drugs used to treat heart conditions.

If you experience severe or unusual chest pain after taking sertraline, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.

It’s important to point out that this side effect is very rare. Overall, sertraline is a safe and effective drug that’s widely used successfully, including by people with certain heart conditions that make other SSRIs unsuitable.

Persistent Bleeding

Sertraline is one of several SSRIs that can act as a blood thinner, meaning it could affect your body’s ability to form blood clots. This means that if you injure yourself in a way that results in bleeding while using sertraline, your body might have difficulty forming a normal blood clot.

Clotting issues from sertraline use can potentially occur as a result of taking sertraline together  with other medications, such as blood thinners. If you use other medications that could affect your clotting ability, it’s essential that you inform your healthcare provider before considering sertraline.

Priapism

Sertraline and other antidepressants have the potential to cause priapism, a condition that can result in a long-lasting, painful erection that is not associated with sexual stimulation. Priapism can cause the penis to stay erect for hours at a time, resulting in severe discomfort and potentially causing damage to penile tissue.

Priapism is a rare side effect of sertraline and other SSRIs. If you experience a persistent, painful erection after taking sertraline or any other antidepressant, you should seek immediate medical assistance.

Suicidal Thoughts

Sertraline and several other widely used antidepressants can increase your risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts. The risk of suicidal thoughts appears to be the highest in people under the age of 25 who take antidepressants..

If you experience suicidal thoughts after you start using sertraline, it’s important to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Learn More About Sertraline

While many of the side effects listed above can look alarming, it’s worth remembering that most people who use sertraline either experience no side effects at all, or light, transient side effects that disappear as they become accustomed to the medication.

Sertraline is one of the most common, widely used antidepressants in the world, with more than 37 million prescriptions in the US alone. For the vast majority of users, it’s a safe, effective and important medication that provides real benefits.

In addition to the side effects listed above, sertraline can potentially interact with a wide range of other medications and substances, including alcohol. Our Sertraline 101 Guide goes into more detail on these interactions, as well as the essentials of how sertraline works as a medication.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.