Frequently Asked Questions

10. What types of medication are used to treat depression?

Medications called antidepressants work to normalize brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, notably serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Scientists studying depression have found that these chemicals, and possibly others, are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of exactly how they work.

Newer Antidepressants. The newest and most popular types of antidepressant medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa) and several others. Similar to SSRIs are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). Another newer antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) is neither an SSRI nor an SNRI but is popular as well.

Older Antidepressants. Older antidepressants, called tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), are still used sometimes, too. However, these older antidepressants are not as popular as the newer ones because they tend to have more side effects. However, medications affect everyone differently so talk with your doctor to decide which type is best for you.

Practical Considerations. People taking MAOIs must follow strict food and medicine restrictions to avoid potentially serious interactions. If you take an MAOI, your doctor should give you a complete list of foods, medicines, and substances to avoid.

MAOIs can also react with SSRIs to produce a serious condition called "serotonin syndrome," which can cause confusion, hallucinations, increased sweating, muscle stiffness, seizures, changes in blood pressure or heart rhythm, and other potentially life threatening conditions. MAOIs should not be taken with SSRIs.

Caution is required when combining any serotonergic medication (not just MAOIs) with SSRIs. For example, in 2006 the FDA issued specific warnings against using triptans that are commonly-prescribed to treat migraine headaches together with SSRIs or SNRIs. Using these medications together can cause serotonin syndrome.