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Safe, effective and popular, sertraline is a widely used antidepressant that’s part of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of medications. In fact, it’s one of the most widely used drugs in its class, with millions of annual prescriptions written for it in the United States alone. However, like other antidepressants, there is a definitive link between sertraline and weight gain.
While not every person who uses sertraline will gain weight, studies show that people who use sertraline generally have a mild but noticeable increase in body mass over the long term.
Below, we’ve explained how drugs like sertraline and weight gain are related as well as what you should expect if you’ve been prescribed sertraline. We’ve also covered what you can do to minimize any change in your body mass after you start using sertraline or other SSRIs.
Sertraline and Weight Gain: The Basics
Antidepressants have long had a reputation for causing weight gain. While sertraline isn’t quite as closely linked to weight gain as earlier antidepressant medications, studies show that there is a link between sertraline and weight gain in the people who use it.
In a study from 2016, researchers compared different antidepressants to assess their effects on body mass. Sertraline was one of several drugs that was linked to weight gain, with users of the drug experiencing “modest weight gain” over the course of two years.
Interestingly, the study found that sertraline was more likely to cause weight gain than several other antidepressants, with sertraline users gaining an average of 5.9lbs compared to users of fluoxetine.
While this study isn’t perfect (only a small amount of people completed the entire two years of treatment), it does show that sertraline can and often does contribute to weight gain.
Why Does Sertraline Cause Weight Gain?
While scientists and doctors have long known that antidepressants can cause weight gain, there isn’t a huge amount of evidence showing why this happens.
In general, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of evidence that sertraline and other SSRIs have a direct effect on your metabolism. In one study from 2009, researchers found that sertraline did not have any significant impact on thyroid function, limiting any potential metabolic effects.
Currently, the most convincing theory is that antidepressants like sertraline can make you feel hungrier than normal. People who use sertraline might also feel less satisfied after eating food, resulting in them eating bigger portions that contain a larger amount of calories.
Weight gain from sertraline is usually gradual (most studies of SSRIs show it occuring at the six month point, but not immediately), meaning even a small increase in appetite can have a major impact on your body weight over the long term.
There’s also a possibility that recovering from depression, which sertraline is often prescribed to treat, can cause a person to regain their normal appetite and regain weight that was lost as the result of a weaker-than-normal interest in eating.
It’s also possible that sertraline and other SSRIs could block the effects of hormones that control sodium and fluid in the body, resulting in fluid retention.
So, while sertraline side effects do include weight gain, scientists still aren’t exactly sure why.
How to Avoid Weight Gain From Sertraline
While some weight gain from sertraline might be unavoidable, there are several steps that you can take to minimize the amount of weight you can from your medication:
- Weigh yourself before you start. Make sure you know how much you weigh before you start using sertraline. This makes it easier to track any change in your weight that could be from the medication.
Try to weigh yourself in the morning, before eating and after going to the bathroom for the most accurate reading.
- Maintain your normal eating habits. Sertraline might affect your appetite, causing you to feel less satisfied by food than normal. To avoid any weight gain, try to maintain your previous eating habits, such as food choices, portion sizes and meal timing.
- Stay active. If you currently exercise, it’s best to continue exercising as you normally would after starting sertraline (unless your doctor advises you not to). Exercise is also closely linked to improvements in many depression and anxiety symptoms.
- Weigh yourself every week or month. While it’s not good to obsess over your weight, weighing yourself every week or month lets you track any changes over the long term and make adjustments to your diet or activity level.
- If you gain weight, tell your doctor. If you notice a significant amount of weight gain after starting sertraline, it’s best to talk to your doctor. They might recommend making changes to your diet or activity level, or adjusting your sertraline dosage.
If you lose weight, tell your doctor. Although sertraline is generally associated with weight gain, it can also cause short-term weight loss by affecting your appetite. This is most common during the first weeks of treatment.
Despite their reputation for weight gain, SSRIs such as sertraline don’t have to have any effect on your body composition. By using the tactics above, you should be able to avoid or minimize any changes in your weight after you start taking sertraline.
Learn More About Sertraline
Are you considering using sertraline? With more than 37 million prescriptions in the US alone, sertraline is a versatile, popular SSRI that’s used to treat everything from depression to sexual issues such as premature ejaculation.
Our 101 guide to sertraline goes into more detail on everything you need to know before using sertraline, from the medication’s main uses to sertraline dosage, potential sertraline side effects, interactions and more.