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Zoloft (Sertraline)

An Overview of Zoloft for Panic Disorder

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Updated June 30, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Zoloft is a type of antidepressant that can be used to treat panic disorder.

Photo © Microsoft

Antidepressant medication is a one of the most common treatment options for panic disorder. Zoloft (sertraline) is one medication that is often prescribed to treat panic disorder and other conditions.

Background Information

Zoloft is the trade name for the antidepressant medication sertraline and belongs to a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. SSRIs were first introduced to U.S. consumers in the 1980's and have since remained popular because they are safe, effective, and have fewer side effects compared to other types of antidepressants. Other commonly prescribed SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), and Paxil (paroxetine).

Pfizer initially produced Zoloft in the early 1990’s. Originally only prescribed to treat major depressive disorder, Zoloft is now used to treat a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. Zoloft is currently approved to treat adults age 18 or older diagnosed with depression, social anxiety disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia). It can also be used to treat children, adolescents, and adults diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

How Zoloft Helps with Panic Disorder

As an SSRI, Zoloft affects a person’s levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin helps regulate mood and is thought to be insufficient in those who have mood or anxiety disorders. Zoloft helps slow down and balance the absorption of serotonin by the brain cells. By assisting with the stabilization of serotonin, Zoloft decreases a person’s feelings of anxiety, enhances mood, and can even help reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Zoloft can also assist in treating common co-occurring conditions, such as other anxiety disorders or depression.

Side Effects of Zoloft

Some of the most common side effects of Zoloft include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased sweating
  • Digestive issues
  • Sexual side effects
  • Changes in weight and appetite

The side effects of Zoloft often subside over time, but if you experience side effects that are persistent or become unmanageable then contact your doctor to discuss your options. Just like with any medication, you may experience an allergic reaction to Zoloft. Additionally, there is potential to having a serious drug interaction when taking Zoloft with other medications. Keep your doctor informed about all the prescribed and over-the-counter medications you are taking.

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following less common side effects:

  • Signs that you are having an allergic reaction: hives, rash, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and swelling of the face, mouth, throat, or tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Extreme nervousness, irritability, or anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts

How Long Zoloft Takes to Work

Do not expect Zoloft to immediately help reduce your symptoms of panic disorder. Typically, you may notice improvements within one to two weeks. However, it may take several months before you reach the full effects of Zoloft.

Missing Your Dosage of Zoloft

If you forget to take a dosage of Zoloft, take it as soon as you remember, except if it is close to your next dosage time. Never take two dosages of Zoloft at the same time. Instead, take your scheduled dosage and then return to your regular dosage plan.

Discontinuing Your Zoloft Prescription

Never abruptly discontinue your prescription on your own. If you determine that you no longer want to take Zoloft, your doctor can assist you in gradually reducing your dosage. Suddenly stopping your dosage can cause you to experience some serious withdrawal-like symptoms, such as increased anxiety, irritability, and confusion.

Precautions and Contraindications to Taking Zoloft

There are some precautions that should be considered when taking Zoloft:

Black Box Warning. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a black box warning about SSRIs. The FDA cautioned that SSRI usage potentially increases suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults taking these medications. Young people on SSRIs should be observed for worsening symptoms and thoughts of suicide.

Pregnancy/Nursing. Zoloft can be passed on to children during pregnancy or while nursing. If you are pregnant, plan on becoming pregnant, or are nursing, consult your doctor about the possible risks of taking Zoloft.

Alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol while taking Zoloft. Consuming alcohol can potentially increase the medication’s toxicity and reduce its effectiveness.

Lightheadedness, Dizziness, and Drowsiness. Feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, and drowsiness are common when taking Zoloft. While you are getting used to the effects of Zoloft, use caution while driving or performing activities that require you to be alert.

Older Adults. Older adults are often more prone to experience the side effects of Zoloft. Dosage adjustments may be necessary to control this problem.

The information provided here is meant to be an overview of the use of Zoloft for panic disorder. The general information here does not cover every possibility, such as potential adverse side effects, precautions, and contraindications. Always consult your medical provider about any questions and/or concerns you may have about your Zoloft prescription.

Sources:

Dudley, William. Antidepressants. San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press, 2008.

Silverman, Harold M. The Pill Book. 14th ed. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2010.

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