Last week we reviewed medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Medications impacting serotonin to help regulate mood were a focus. Did you know you could get too much serotonin? When we overdo it, there is a condition called serotonin syndrome that can occur.
I saw a patient that really made me think about this. He is on three antidepressant medications and a couple of other medications that can interact with those. All of them will increase his serotonin levels. I immediately alerted his primary care provider.
Three main scenarios
There are three key ways serotonin syndrome typically occurs:
1. Too many antidepressants, often from more than one doctor. If those doctors don’t know what the others are doing, more than one can start treating the same condition.
2. Self-treatment in addition to prescribed treatment. In particular, St John’s wort increases serotonin. Because there is no regulation for products such as St John’s wort, one bottle can have a different amount than another, so one bottle might lead to too much serotonin while another does not. Several over-the-counter medications can also increase serotonin to dangerously high levels when used with antidepressant medication.
3. Interactions with other medications. There are several other medications for completely different medical conditions that can increase the serotonin effects of antidepressant medications.
When someone has too much serotonin then a condition called serotonin syndrome can occur. The symptoms, especially early on and with a mild version, can be mistaken for a viral illness. These milder symptoms are fever, chills, diarrhea, muscle aches or spasm or rigidity. Other symptoms can be confusion, feeling irritable, or feeling disoriented. Your heart might beat faster and blood pressure could go up.
With more severe serotonin syndrome, seizures, coma, changes in heartbeat, and even unresponsiveness are possible. The most severe cases can lead to death.
Prevent Serotonin Syndrome
Your best defense against serotonin syndrome is to be very open with all of your doctors and your pharmacist about each medication you take. Ask each of them to carefully evaluate your entire regimen.
Do not change your dose on your own. Increasing your dose without guidance increases your risk of serotonin syndrome.
Adding medications you choose to take on your own can increase risk. Medications that can increase serotonin include those you take for cough, for other mood disorders, for pain, for migraine, for nausea, and for some infections. The list is so long, I encourage you to make sure you always share all of your medicines with all of your healthcare providers.
Note, even herbal medications and illicit medications can increase serotonin.
Please don’t be afraid or stop your antidepressant
The purpose of this blog is to make you aware, not to make you afraid. When taken at appropriate doses, antidepressants have aided in the resolution of depression for many people. Keep in mind; counseling is a key part of depression therapy versus medication alone. Keeping your entire medical team involved in each aspect of your care and how you feel during therapy will help avoid issues such as serotonin syndrome.
I want to remind you to never stop your antidepressant/antianxiety medication all of a sudden. Your healthcare team will guide you through a gradual tapered withdrawal when that is warranted.
For information about depression and anxiety treatment, serotonin syndrome, and drug interactions, please contact us at Meds MASH at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact.
This might be a loose association, so please stay with me here. I found that people with lingering depression and/or their loved ones seek relief from multiple sources. They sometimes combine prescription medications with herbal therapies with cognitive behavior therapies with religion with any other options for which they find anecdotal evidence. I typically do not hear the full picture at my first visit. It is with time and the building of trust that I get the full story. Sometimes those mixtures of therapies work, and other times they lead to more problems.
I think the same can be true with spiritual growth options. There is a lot of information ‘out there’. You can find speakers, books, videos, churches, ministries, and blogs that will tell you just about anything.
I have mentioned before the rapid growth of para-spiritual businesses that exist to help people feel better. Many of them are quite centered on the person rather than on the One True God.
Discernment is key with so many voices and messages to select. And, wow, this is so much easier to type than to do.
Jesus, Paul, John, Solomon, James, and others throughout the Bible encourage us to be careful. Follow God’s word, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and don’t fall for just anything that you hear.
1 John 4:1 ESV
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
I like this passage even better in The Message:
My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
When you’re not sure what you’re hearing is right, take a time out. Go to the Bible. Talk with spiritually mature Christians. Pray for guidance. Hasty decisions can quickly get you into trouble.
James 1:5 ESV
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
You’re smart, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get caught up in false information.
Matthew 24:24 ESV
For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
There are so many confusing messages in our World. Just this past week alone has bombarded you with message of right and wrong and what you should believe.
Romans 12:2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re confused. It is a smart thing to question all you hear, read, see, and experience.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 ESV
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Jesus tells us to expect this confusion. He also tells us to be wise, discerning, smart, and loving all at the same time. And HE is the one who can help us do that. You can’t do it alone.
Matthew 10:16 ESV
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
I’m praying we each seek the truth through the One who is and was and is to come.