Did you know that the researchers that conduct drug trials do not ask patients about specific side effects? Rather, they ask a generic question such as “are you having adverse reactions to the medication” the patient then has to self-report any specific side effects they are having. Sometimes physicians during medication management sessions will use a similar question when asking about side effects. Some physicians also make statements when prescribing the medication such as “don’t worry most people do not have side effects with this medication.” This is egregious, considering we know these medications have side effects as all medications do. What I want to do over the next several posts, is discuss the common side effects of SSRIs and what you can do about them. The biggest issue we face with psychiatric medications is adherence, and many times side effects play a role.
I want to start with the most common side effects and work our way down. Nausea is one of the early side effects that is disturbing to patients and may result in discontinuation of the medication. Several things can be done to reduce the risk of nausea.
Medication Starting Dose and Titration
One simple step could be to start the medication at the lowest possible dose and titrate slowly. Titrating the dose over one week has been shown to cut the risk of nausea in half. Another potential intervention is to split the dose and give the split dose with separate meals. If possible, use sustained/extended release preparations of the medication. For example, starting a patient on escitalopram 5 mg instead of 10 mg might help reduce the risk of nausea. Another simple change could be the timing of medication administration. Taking the medication after a meal may be helpful. Many patients find that food helps reduce the nausea and most of these medications can be taken with or without food.
Ginger Is Good
If the above interventions fail to help you can consider ginger root. This dietary supplement can be purchased over the counter from your local health food store. Ginger root 550 mg one to two capsules up to three times per day if the slow titration and other intervention are ineffective.
If All Else Fails
Finally, if the nausea does not respond to the above interventions then anti-nausea medications are appropriate. The two most commonly used at ondansetron and Mirtazapine which also blocks 5HT-3 receptors leading to reduced nausea.