SSRI dosing

Anxiety and Depression Medications – Step Up, Step Down

SSRI dosing
Depression and anxiety medications should be started and later stopped in gradual steps.

Sometimes you can start a medicine and it starts working right away. Sometimes it takes a while to work. Sometimes you can stop a medicine ‘cold turkey.’ Sometimes you can’t without risky side effects. Some require step up and step down dosing.

I believe it is very important to understand a medication, how it works, how to best use it, and how to avoid problems. There are a lot of these tidbits that are important in the use of anxiety/depression medications. The most commonly used anxiety/depression medications right now are in a class called ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ (SSRIs).

The class name describes how they work. I’m going to try to break it down into steps that make sense.

Neurotransmitters

The first step is to have some understanding of neurotransmitters. They are the brain’s messengers. They carry messages from one nerve to another.

Some of the main neurotransmitters are:

  • Epinephrine – adrenalin, drives the sympathetic system and your ‘fight or flight’ response when you are scared, in stress, or in danger
  • Norepinephrine – also drives the sympathetic system causing you to feel awake, ready for the day, able to manage stress
  • Dopamine – mainly related to movement; increasing this is key in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Serotonin – manages your mood, appetite, sleep, and movement of your gastrointestinal tract

Neurotransmitters are passed from nerve cell to nerve cell. As a neurotransmitter leaves one nerve cell, it goes into a space between the end of that nerve cell and the beginning of the next nerve cell. This space is called the synapse.

The beginning of the next nerve cell has receptors.   Neurotransmitter in the synapse (the space) will bind to a receptor. That will allow it to get into the nerve cell and create an electrical signal that will travel through it to the end and continue the message to the next neuron in the same manner. At the end, it will be released into the synapse where it can be picked up by the receptors of the next nerve cell. In this way, the message travels through the whole nerve system.

When there is too much neurotransmitter in the synapse, the nerve cell that released it can take it back. This is called reuptake.

The body has amazing processes to regulate itself. In this case, release from a nerve cell, time in the synapse, and binding to a receptor in the next nerve cell are all carefully synchronized.

Serotonin, depression, and anxiety

Serotonin is one of the primary neurotransmitters for the regulation of mood and sleep. When someone is depressed, it might be because serotonin transmissions are too slow.

When someone is experiencing anxiety, serotonin levels might be out of balance.

The role of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors is to prevent the first nerve cell from taking back the extra serotonin it has released. This will make more serotonin available for the receptor of the next nerve cell. This will allow more serotonin to be passed from nerve cell to nerve cell.

Product delivery analogy

Imagine you have created a product that is a popular gift for special occasions. During most months the demand for your product stays steady for events such as birthdays.

On these months, you keep a regular supply of product in your warehouse. Ten distribution trucks can get the products to the stores that sell your product. This keeps the stores supplied with enough product for customers each month. If a store has several products that have not sold, they will send them back to the warehouse in the delivery truck.

Then, there are two months when the demand goes way up. During these two months, you stock your warehouse with much more product. You hire 10 more distribution trucks. You stop taking any product back to the warehouse from the stores. All product is moved from the warehouse to the stores.

Then, in the month after the rush, demand gradually decreases. It does not immediately go back to normal. People exchanging gifts often exchange their original gift for your product. Others see their friends with your product and want one for themselves. Then eventually, the demand is back to normal.

In this analogy, your product is the serotonin. The warehouse is the nerve cell that stores the serotonin. The delivery truck is the receptor that will transport the serotonin into the next nerve cell to continue the message.

Why Step Up and Step Down?

Increasing the availability of serotonin takes time. The nerve cells can’t immediately stop the reuptake process. The receptors don’t immediately increase in number to use more of the available serotonin. The entire central nervous system doesn’t immediately respond to the extra serotonin. That whole process takes about 8 weeks. At around 4 weeks the doctor prescribing the SSRI might increase the dose if your energy is not starting to pick up.

Similarly, it takes time for the body to adapt when the medication is stopped. Usually, if someone with a first episode of depression has been treated for six months and is feeling good, then the SSRI can be stopped. However, it shouldn’t be stopped all at once. It will again take the nervous system time to adapt to a change in the medication. So, the dose needs to be very gradually decreased over a few weeks. If it is stopped all at once you could feel dizzy, tired, anxious, achy, irritable, nauseous, like your skin is prickly, or other symptoms. The receptors and nerve cells need time to take back over the serotonin transmission without assistance.

NOTE, this does not mean you are addicted. It means your body has adapted to the medication and needs time to adapt back to being without the medicine.

Disclaimers – Everyone will have times in life with highs and lows. Each low is not a type of depression that requires treatment. A professional makes the diagnosis of depression or anxiety requiring treatment. The treated depression or anxiety has usually lasted several weeks to months and is impacting daily life activities.

If this leaves you with questions, please contact us at Meds MASH at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

The step therapy of SSRI’s reminds me a common path of helping other people find Christ.

Often someone who doesn’t know Christ will hesitate to find an accept Him all at once. Sometimes it is years of small events, people, exposures, or discussion that gradually lead to real interest. Even from there, developing understanding and real seeking can take more time. At some point after all of this exposure and searching, the person reaches the point of accepting Christ and moves to leading a life of following Christ. As a believer in that person’s life, you can’t just wash your hands and walk away. This new believer is in a fragile state. The excitement, joy, and intentions are very real. Do you remember how awesome that time period was, if you are a believer who came to Christ over a period of time of searching? If you walk away now, that new believer could be like the seed that falls on rocky ground from the Parable of the Sower.

Matthew 13:5-6 ESV

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.

Jesus goes on to explain this parable (found Matthew 13:1-23), and the explanation of this part is:

Matthew 13:20-21 ESV

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

Following Christ can seem so obvious, so right, so easy at first.   But, life is full of road bumps, dead ends, and hardship. A brand new believer can quickly and easily become disillusioned. You know Satan will be lining up these difficulties to create just this situation. So, you can’t just walk away and feel that your work is done.

Support for a new believer is at least as important as helping others find Christ.

As the new believer learns to communicate, read God’s word and listen for His voice, and find friendships with other believers, then your role will gradually be less critical. It doesn’t go away, but the frequency of your interactions might decrease.

The role of continued fellowship and connection with other believers is found throughout the Bible.

Romans 1:12 ESV

That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Hebrews 10:25 ESV

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

So, I found it interesting to consider how we step up when introducing someone to Christ and step down as they grow and mature in their faith.

Blessings,

Michelle

Aging effects

Aging – the good, the bad, the medication issues

Aging effects
Changes come with aging – some impact best medication use.

You are aging. No matter your overall health, your lifestyle choice, your beliefs about the medical system, you are aging.

If you do EVERYTHING right when it comes to healthy living, will aging stop? No.

Here are some changes that occur in all of us with aging.

  • Kidney function starts a very gradual decline in your late 30’s or early 40’s.
  • Liver size and blood flow to your liver diminish. The number of cells shrinks. There is less activity of the enzymes that break down medications.
  • Food and medications move through the intestine more slowly.
  • The volume of urine that the bladder can hold decreases. Bladder muscles weaken.
  • For men, the prostate gland increases in size.
  • For women, the urethra shortens and becomes thinner. So, risk of urinary tract infection goes up.
  • Muscles weaken as growth hormone levels decline.
  • Aldosterone levels decrease, so risk of dehydration goes up.
  • The immune system slows down. So, risk of infection and cancer go up. Also, it can take longer to treat an infection.
  • Heart muscle and blood vessels get stiffer. This can increase risk of high blood pressure. Also, with exercise, the heart can’t pump as much blood or speed up as much as it did at younger ages. So, exercise capacity is lower.
  • The muscles involved in breathing weaken. There is a decline in the number of small sacs in the lungs where oxygen is passed to the blood.
  • The amount of water in the body goes down while the body fat goes up.

This is not intended to alarm or depress you. With aging also comes wisdom, experience, tolerance, and the benefits of many life lessons. So, celebrate the process with its good and challenging elements.

As a pharmacist, I want you to understand how and why medications should be prescribed differently at different ages. Any medical conditions; habits such as smoking or excess alcohol consumption; excess weight; and other factors can further impact how medication actions change over time.

The first step of a medication’s actions comes when it is presented to the body. Most often it is swallowed and then has to be absorbed. Absorption is not impacted very much by normal aging, but it is impacted by medications that lower stomach acid, change the rate of the gastrointestinal tract, or by stomach or intestine procedures.

The second step is distribution. The medication, once absorbed, is distributed throughout the body. Some medications prefer fat and other prefer water. As we age, we have more body fat and less body water. So, medications that love water are more concentrated in the overall smaller total amount of water. The medications that love fat are distributed to more places and can be harder to gather it all back together to get rid of it.

The third step is metabolism. This is how the medication is broken down in the body. Some medications have to be broken down in order to get rid of them. Others have to be broken down in order to reach their more active form. Metabolism happens in the liver. Over time, the liver becomes less active, so it takes longer to break down some medications.

The fourth step is elimination. This is how the medication leaves the body. Most medications are either eliminated through the urine or through the feces (stool). So, any decrease in kidney function will slow down the elimination through the urine. Any slowing, shortening, or other issues with the intestines and colon can impact the elimination through the feces.

The important point of mentioning all of this is to make you aware that medications act differently in your body as you age. The medication, the dose, the timing that was good for you 10 years ago might not be the best for you now. Your doctor shouldn’t prescribe medications in the same way for a 70 year old person as prescribed for a 30 year old person.

I encourage you to ask your doctor and your pharmacist to carefully review your medications to be sure all are correct for your age and your unique set of medical conditions.

We would also be happy to provide that very thorough assessment for you. You can contact us at www.medsmash.com.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

A life of faith is a long pursuit. It often takes time to develop perseverance and character, hope and joy in all circumstances.

Romans 5:3-5 NIV

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Throughout the Psalms and Proverbs age is revered with dignity and honor.

Proverbs 16:31 ESV

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Psalm 71:18 ESV

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

Psalm 92:12-15 ESV

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Psalm 71:9 ESV

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

Proverbs 20:29 ESV

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

At the end of this life we have the promise of a glorious eternity. It makes the aging and the waiting easier to dwell on what is to come!

2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

Blessings,

Michelle

Image source: National Institute of Aging; National Institutes of Health; US Department of Health and Human Services.

Weight – Less of you might mean less in your medicine cabinet

…or at

Medicine doses should be adjusted with weight loss
Medicine doses should be adjusted with weight loss

least lower doses.

Healthy weight loss can lead to decreased doses

Unhealthy weight loss can, too. Actually, sudden, unexpected, or drastic weight loss can be even more hazardous. If it is unplanned please talk with your doctor right away.

Fat loving (lipophilic) medicines distribute throughout all of the extra weight in our bodies. The medication finds places to travel and stay stored in all of these fatty areas. Once we lose fat, it takes a lower dose to get the same effect. If the dose is not changed with weight loss, the same dose you have taken for years can actually be toxic. Rather than being stored in the fat, the amount of medicine stays in your blood where it has more effect. I have seen several cases where someone was getting more confused, more sleepy, having more difficulty thinking with no change in their medicine regimen. Upon further analysis, we found they had lost several pounds over the past several months with no reduction in medicine dose. So talk with your doctor as you lose weight to double check doses of meds.

Medical conditions related to weight

There are also several medical conditions that are related to your weight, especially excess weight. For many people diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are found when the person is overweight. They get worse with increased weight. If that person then loses weight, those medical conditions can get better. The need for medicines to control these conditions can go down as the body is better able to manage the blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol on its own. This means the number and doses of medicines might also need to be decreased. Blood pressure medicine doses that are too high can lead to dizziness, especially with standing, and falls. Diabetes medicine doses that are too high can lead to low blood sugar, confusion, dizziness, sweating, or even passing out. Cholesterol medicine doses that are too high might increase risk of side effects like liver damage or muscle pain.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol and have lost at least five pounds, ask your doctor if you could take fewer medicines or lower doses.

What are other benefits of weight loss?

Data has shown that a 5% weight loss can help prevent high blood pressure. It can also help control your blood pressure, your diabetes, and your cholesterol. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, this would be a 10 pound weight loss. This can be accomplished through diet and exercise. Fast weight loss fad diets are NOT the diets of choice. Eating healthy foods, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat options are the safest diet changes. Also, exercise does not mean running a marathon tomorrow. Increased movement several times each day can have a huge positive benefit.

I had one patient once who took this message to heart. He gradually changed his diet and started walking. None of his changes were extreme. Over time, he lost weight. We were able to remove EIGHT medicines from his regimen as his own body resumed control of his conditions. Not everyone will have results this dramatic, but small changes can have big positive impacts.

For more information about healthy weight loss and associated medicine reductions, please contact us at www.medsmash.com.

BIBLICAL APPLICATION

In line with these thoughts about the positive benefits of weight loss, consider the benefits of guilt loss! How much of your daily activity is influenced by guilt? Do ayou feel worthy, accepted, loved, precious, and good enough? Or, do doubts cast a shadow over you? Do feelings of guilt or shame impact your confidence and your attitude? Are you as positive and hopeful s you could be?

If you could shed guilt and shame, can you even imagine how much lighter your load would be? Think how much freer you would be to rejoice and praise and live the life you were meant to live!

Here are some of the thoughts in the Bible about guilt.

Romans 8:1 ESV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:23 ESV

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 5:1 ESV

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rather than being burdened and weighed down by guilt, consider this offer from Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The past is gone. You are forgiven! You do not need to carry around this guilt and shame. Shed it and see how good you can feel!

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Blessings,

Michelle

Image Source:  National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Medications to avoid when over age 65

Slide1

Since 1991 there has been a group of geriatricians and other physicians identifying medicines that might be inappropriate in people over age 65. Dr. Mark Beers originally led this group, so it is called the ‘Beers Criteria’. This list has been updated every few years. The most recent update was this month.

The medications on this list have SAFER and/or MORE EFFECTIVE options available.

Some of the reasons for medications to make the list include:

  • blood pressure lowering medicines that cause more dizziness and falls than other options
  • medicines with anticholinergic (very drying) effects that can have several negative effects including worsening memory
  • anxiety medicines that cause thinking/memory problems and falls
  • depression medicines that cause several problems
  • allergy medicines that cause drowsiness, driving accidents, and falls
  • medicines that are cleared from the body through the kidneys which slow down with age
  • medicines that are cleared from the body through the liver which can slow down with age
  • medicines that are ok at low doses but dangerous at high doses
  • medicines that can cause delirium
  • medicines that can worsen memory
  • medicines that can cause constipation
  • medicines that can make urination with prostate enlargement even more difficult

This year, for the first time, guidelines for safer options to replace these dangerous medicines were written. This is exciting news!

If you are over 65, please talk with your prescribers about these lists of potentially inappropriate medicines and these lists of safe alternatives.

For a personal evaluation of your medicines, please contact www.medsmash.com.

Biblical Application

In your daily walk with God, what are the most effective steps and activities? What does the Bible say you should do regularly?

And, where are the pitfalls? What should you avoid?

Just as the Beers List guides prescribers to select the most beneficial and safest medicines, the Bible guides our spiritual practices. Your heart, your tongue, your thoughts, your study, your time, and your actions are included in this guidance.

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.

Colossians 3:5-10 ESV

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

James 1:19-20 ESV

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 4:32 ESV

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

James 1:22-27 ESV

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

There are certainly many more verses that guide our lives. These can be a start in developing a strategy to avoid inappropriate, dangerous behaviors and replace them with life-giving, holy options.

Blessings,

Michelle