Sertraline FAQs: 25 Common Questions Answered

Dr. Patrick Carroll, MD

Medically reviewed by Patrick Carroll, MD

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 2/24/2020

Are you considering using sertraline for pe? As a commonly used SSRI medication on the market, sertraline is used by millions of people in the United States to treat major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder and a range of other conditions.

Below, we’ve answered 25 of the most common questions about sertraline, covering everything from the medication’s benefits to side effects, common dosages and more.

How Long Has Sertraline Been Available?

Sertraline was developed throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. The medication was approved by the FDA in 1991 to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and has since been available as a prescription medication. In 2002, sertraline received approval by the FDA as a treatment for people under the age of eighteen.

Although sertraline was originally sold exclusively by Pfizer, today it’s available as a generic medication from a range of different companies.

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What Drug Class Does Sertraline Belong To?

Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI. It’s prescribed as an antidepressant medication that’s used to treat a range of conditions such as major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and, in women, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

However, it’s also prescribed off-label to treat things like premature ejaculation (PE).

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How Many People Use Sertraline?

Sertraline is a popular SSRI medication on the market. According to Statista, as of 2017, there were more than 37 million prescriptions for sertraline in the United States, making it the 14th most prescribed medication in the country.

And according to one study based on statistics from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, sertraline was the most commonly prescribed antidepressant in the country — by far.

How Does Sertraline Work?

As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), sertraline works by slowing down the rate at which your body reabsorbs serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. This leads to higher levels of active serotonin activity in your brain.

This increase in serotonin levels can help to improve and regulate your mood, resulting in an improvement in the symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and certain types of anxiety.

How Long Does it Take for Sertraline to Work?

Most of the time, it takes four to six weeks for the full benefits of sertraline to take effect. This is the amount of time required for sertraline to reach a steady state in your body, meaning it’s fully absorbed and active at a steady dosage every day.

However, some people who use sertraline start to notice improvements within one to two weeks of using the medication. It’s also common to notice some mild side effects from sertraline during the first weeks of treatment, with these effects often subsiding over the first one to two months.

What is Sertraline Used For?

Sertraline is a versatile medication that’s used to treat a variety of conditions. The most common uses for sertraline include treating:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Sertraline is also prescribed off-label to treat other conditions, such as premature ejaculation (PE).

Is Sertraline the Same as Zoloft®?

Zoloft is the name for a specific brand of sertraline manufactured and marketed by Pfizer. The active ingredient in Zoloft is sertraline hydrochloride — the exact same ingredient that’s used in unbranded, generic versions of sertraline.

Is it Safe to Use Sertraline?

Yes. Sertraline is a safe and effective medication that’s been thoroughly tested in a wide range of clinical trials. It’s safely used by people of all ages, from young children to teenagers, adults and the elderly.

Like all medications, sertraline can cause some side effects. It can also interact with some other medications, supplements and grapefruit. We’ve covered these side effects and interactions in the two questions below.

What Are the Side Effects of Sertraline?

Like other SSRIs, sertraline can cause a range of side effects. 

In a multi-country study published in 2015 on the safety and effectiveness of sertraline for generalized anxiety disorders, researchers found that sertraline was not only more effective than the placebo drug but also that it was generally well tolerated. 

Only eight percent of participants of those taking sertraline left the study due to side effects, compared to 10 percent of those taking the placebo drug.  

Additionally, most of the reported side effects were mild to moderate in severity. You can learn more about the specific side effects of sertraline in our detailed side effects guide.

Are Sertraline Interactions With Other Medications Possible?

Yes. Like other medications, sertraline can interact with other drugs, causing a range of potential health issues. Sertraline interactions are definitely something to consider before beginning treatment.

How Long Does Diarrhea From Sertraline Last?

Diarrhea is a common side effect of sertraline. Like many other sertraline side effects, it usually happens during the first few weeks of using the medication. It’s unusual for this diarrhea to last for longer than a few days after you start taking sertraline.

If you have persistent diarrhea from sertraline, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated. Contact your doctor if your diarrhea doesn’t improve over the course of a couple weeks.

How Long Do Other Side Effects From Sertraline Last?

Like nausea and diarrhea, most side effects from sertraline occur during the first few weeks of using the medication. It’s common for side effects to gradually become less apparent over the course of the first several weeks, as your body adjusts to the consistent dose of sertraline.

If you have persistent side effects from sertraline that do not disappear over time, it’s best to discuss them with your doctor.

Is it Safe to Drive After Taking Sertraline?

If you feel dizzy, sleepy or fatigued after taking sertraline, you should not drive a car or ride a bike after you take the medication. These side effects typically occur in the first few days and weeks after you start using the medication.

After these side effects have passed, most people who use sertraline can safely drive as they would normally.

What About Sertraline Dosage, Forms and Strengths?

Sertraline is available as a tablet and as an oral solution. The tablet is the most common version of the medication.

Sertraline also comes in tablet form. Generally, sertraline dosage comes in 25mg, 50mg and 100mg tablets. Sertraline dosage in liquid is sold in a 20mg/mL concentration. Both versions of sertraline are designed for use once per day based on your doctor’s instructions.

Is Sertraline Available Over the Counter?

Both the tablet and the oral solution versions of sertraline are prescription medications, meaning you’ll need a prescription from your doctor to purchase them. Sertraline is not available over the counter in the United States.

What is Considered a High Dose of Sertraline?

A usual sertraline dosage is 50mg to 100mg per day, which is commonly prescribed to adults as a treatment for depression and some anxiety disorders. The maximum dose of sertraline is 200mg per day, which is usually reached after several weeks or months of treatment at a lower dose.

If you’ve been prescribed sertraline for any condition, follow the dosage instructions exactly as provided by your doctor.

When is the Best Time to Take Sertraline?

Sertraline is designed for use once per day. It’s safe to take it at any time of day, with or without food. Many people who experience nausea and other side effects from sertraline opt to take it at night in order to limit these side effects.

Since sertraline can interfere with sleep in a small percentage of users, many people also opt to take sertraline in the morning. There’s no “perfect” time of day to take your tablet. Instead, it’s best to take it whenever it’s most convenient for you.

Does Food Affect Your Body’s Absorption of Sertraline?

Sertraline does not appear to be significantly affected by food, meaning you can take it after a meal or on an empty stomach, as long as you do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice. As long as you take sertraline at the same time every day, you should notice the full effects of the medication without any absorption issues. 

How Long Does Sertraline Stay in Your System?

Sertraline has a half-life of approximately 26 hours, meaning it will usually reach half of its total concentration about one day after you take it. It takes approximately 5.4 days for your body to get 99 percent of a standard sertraline dose out of your system.

How Long Can You Stay on Sertraline?

Clinical trials of sertraline show that it’s safe to use for the long-term, with many cases of people using sertraline for years at a time. When used as a treatment for depression, doctors typically recommend using sertraline for up to one year after your depression symptoms end.

Many people who use sertraline for the long term (and most other antidepressant medications) are advised to gradually taper their dosage of the medication as they stop using it, instead of stopping abruptly.

What Should You Do if Sertraline Isn’t Working?

Everyone responds differently to medication, meaning you might not get the same results from sertraline as other people. If you don’t feel that sertraline is working for you, the best approach is to talk about it with your doctor.

Your doctor might recommend adjusting your sertraline dosage or switching to another type of antidepressant medication for better results.

What Happens When You Stop Taking Sertraline?

Sertraline has a relatively short half-life, meaning it will leave your body quickly if you decide to stop taking it abruptly. Because of this, some people notice discontinuation symptoms such as insomnia, nausea and anxiety after stopping sertraline.

Most of the time, your doctor will recommend tapering down your dosage of sertraline over the course of several weeks. This allows you to gradually reduce the amount of the medication that is active in your body, helping you avoid discontinuation side effects.

You should not stop taking sertraline against the advice of your doctor. If you have side effects from sertraline or think another medication might be a better option for you, consult with your doctor and follow their advice and recommendations.

Is it Possible to Overdose on Sertraline?

Just like other SSRIs, taking too much sertraline can cause a range of potentially serious side effects. The most common symptoms of sertraline overdose include nausea, dizziness, fever, vomiting, confusion, shakiness and a rapid heartbeat.

Taking too much sertraline can also cause serious symptoms, such as fainting, delirium, heart problems, changes in blood pressure and serotonin syndrome.

Sertraline overdoses can occur if you take too much sertraline at once, or if you combine your dose of sertraline with other drugs.

Do not ever exceed your prescribed dose of sertraline. If you forgot to take your sertraline tablet the day before, do not take two tablets at once. If you are concerned about a potential overdose situation, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

Is it Possible to Lose Weight on Sertraline?

Yes. Although sertraline and other SSRIs are linked to weight gain, monitoring your food intake can allow you to lose weight or maintain your current weight while using sertraline.

About 25 percent of people who use SSRIs notice some level of weight gain. While researchers aren’t fully aware of what causes weight gain happens on SSRIs, some professionals claim that SSRI medications may interfere with people’s ability to “switch off” their urge to eat.

Despite this, there’s no evidence that sertraline affects your body’s metabolism and causes you to use fewer calories than normal. This means that you may lose or gain weight as you normally would by adjusting your calorie intake or activity level.

If you notice weight gain after starting sertraline and feel concerned, it’s best to let your doctor know when you next see them. Our guide to sertraline and weight gain also contains several techniques that you can use to avoid unwanted weight gain while using sertraline.

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Can Sertraline Treat Premature Ejaculation?

Although sertraline isn’t designed specifically to treat premature ejaculation, studies show that it can increase ejaculation latency — the amount of time required for a man to orgasm and ejaculate during sex — in men.

Our guide to sertraline and premature ejaculation goes into greater detail on this topic, with links to relevant studies covering the benefits of sertraline for increasing ejaculation time.

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.

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