Sertraline is a type of antidepressant known as an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).
Sertraline helps many people recover from depression, and it has fewer unwanted effects than older antidepressants.
Sertraline comes as tablets which are available only on prescription.
- It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for sertraline to work.
- Side effects such as feeling sick, headaches and trouble sleeping are common. They are usually mild and go away after a couple of weeks.
- Sertraline can affect an unborn baby. Tell your doctor straight away if you're trying to get pregnant or become pregnant while taking it.
- Sertraline can cause withdrawal symptoms. Don't stop taking it without talking to your doctor.
- Sertraline is also called by the brand name Lustral.
Who can and can't take sertraline
Sertraline can be taken by adults for depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Sertraline can be taken by children aged 6 to 17 but only for obsessive compulsive disorder.
Check with your doctor before starting to take sertraline if you:
- have had an allergic reaction to sertraline or any other medicines in the past
- have a heart problem as sertraline can speed up or change your heartbeat
- have ever taken any other medicines for depression - some rarely used antidepressants can interfere with sertraline to cause very high blood pressure even when they have been stopped for a few weeks
- are trying to become pregnant, are already pregnant or you are breastfeeding - sertraline is usually not recommended in pregnancy or while breastfeeding
- have an eye problem called glaucoma because sertraline can increase the pressure in your eye
If you have diabetes, sertraline can make it more difficult to keep your blood sugar stable. Monitor your blood sugar more often for the first few weeks of treatment with sertraline and adjust your diabetes treatment if necessary.
How and when to take it
Take sertraline once a day. You can take sertraline with or without food.
You can choose to take sertraline at any time, as long as you stick to the same time every day. If you have trouble sleeping, it's best to take it in the morning.
How much will I take?
The usual dose of sertraline is 50mg a day in adults. However, it might be started at a lower dose then increased gradually to a maximum dose of 200mg a day. If you have liver problems your doctor might give you a lower dose, or advise you to take sertraline less often.
The usual dose of sertraline in children aged 6 to 12 is 25mg a day, but this may be increased to 50mg a day after a week.
The usual dose of sertraline in children aged 13 to 17 is 50mg a day. Children of any age might have their dose increased up to 200mg a day, if needed.
What if I forget to take it?
If you occasionally forget to take a dose, don't worry. Take your next dose the next day at the usual time. Never take 2 doses at the same time to make up for a forgotten one.
If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to help you remember to take your medicine.
What if I take too much?
Ask your doctor for advice straight away. An overdose can lead to potentially serious symptoms such as:
- feeling sleepy
- fast heart rate
Like all medicines, sertraline can cause side effects in some people, but many people have no side effects or only minor ones. Some of the common side effects of sertraline will gradually improve as your body gets used to it. Some people who take sertraline for panic attacks find their anxiety gets worse during the first few weeks of treatment. This usually wears off after a few weeks but speak to your doctor if it bothers you - a lower dose may help reduce your symptoms.
Common side effects
These side effects happen in more than 1 in 100 people. If you get these side effects, keep taking the medicine, but tell your doctor if these side effects bother you or don't go away:
- feeling sick
- being unable to sleep
- feeling sleepy
- dry mouth
- feeling tired or weak
- in men, problems ejaculating
Serious side effects
It happens rarely (in less than 1 in 100 people), but some people may have serious side effects when taking sertraline.
Tell a doctor straight away if you get:
- headache, trouble focusing, memory problems, not thinking clearly, weakness, seizures, or losing your balance - these can be signs of low sodium levels
- thoughts about harming yourself or ending your life
- chest pain or pressure, or shortness of breath
- severe dizziness or passing out
- fits, feelings of euphoria, excessive enthusiasm or excitement, or a feeling of restlessness that means you can't sit or stand still
- yellow skin or eyes - this can be a sign of liver problems
- putting on or losing weight without trying to
- changes in your periods such as heavy bleeding, spotting, or bleeding between periods
- painful erections that last longer than 4 hours - this may happen even when you are not having sex
Or, if you get any signs of abnormal bleeding including:
- vomiting blood or dark vomit, coughing up blood, blood in your pee, black or red poo - these can be signs of bleeding from the gut
- bleeding from the gums or bruises that appear without a reason or that get bigger
- any bleeding that is very bad or that you cannot stop
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it’s possible to have a serious allergic reaction to sertraline.
A serious allergic reaction is an emergency. Contact a doctor straight away if you think you or someone around you is having a serious allergic reaction.
The warning signs of a serious allergic reaction are:
- getting a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
- tightness in the chest or throat
- having trouble breathing or talking
- swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat
These are not all the side effects of sertraline. For a full list see the leaflet inside your medicines packet.
You can report any suspected side effect to the UK safety scheme.
How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
- feeling sick - try taking sertraline with or after food. It may also help if you avoid rich or spicy food.
- headaches - make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a painkiller. Headaches should usually go away after the first week of taking sertraline. Talk to your doctor if they last longer than a week or are severe.
- being unable to sleep - take sertraline first thing in the morning
- feeling sleepy - cut down the amount of alcohol you drink
- diarrhoea - drink plenty of water in small, frequent sips. It may also help to take oral rehydration solutions. You can buy these from a pharmacy or supermarket to prevent dehydration. Do not take any other medicines to treat diarrhoea without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.
- a dry mouth - chew sugar-free gum or sugar-free sweets
- dizziness - if sertraline makes you feel dizzy, stop what you’re doing and sit or lie down until you feel better
You can reduce the chance of having a side effect that bothers you if you take sertraline in the evening. That way you're asleep when the level of medicine in your body is highest.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Sertraline is generally not recommended in pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
No antidepressants are considered completely safe to take in pregnancy or while breastfeeding, but your doctor will want to prescribe sertraline when the benefits to you outweigh the risks.
Sertraline and similar antidepressants have occasionally been linked with a small risk of problems for the unborn baby when they're taken in early or late pregnancy.
Sertraline and breastfeeding
Sertraline passes into breast milk and has been linked with side effects in breastfed babies.
Talk to your doctor about taking sertraline while you are breastfeeding.
Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines and sertraline can interfere with each other and increase the chances of you having side effects.
- any medicines that affect your heartbeat - as sertraline can speed up or change your heartbeat
- any other medicines for depression - some antidepressants can interfere with sertraline to cause very high blood pressure even when they have been stopped
Mixing sertraline with herbal remedies and supplements
Don't take St John's wort, the herbal remedy for depression, while you are being treated with sertraline as this will increase your risk of side effects.
How does sertraline work?
How will it make me feel?
When will I feel better?
What will happen if I come off it?
How long will I take it for?
Is it safe to take it for a long time?
Is sertraline better than other antidepressants?
Will I gain or lose weight?
Will it affect my contraception?
Will it affect my sex life?
Can I drive or ride a bike?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Is there any food or drink I need to avoid?
Will recreational drugs affect it?