Effexor (venlafaxine) for depression: benefits and side effects

Many medications can help treat depression, including Effexor. This article examines how Effexor compares to other options.

Living with a mental health issue like depression can feel isolating, but you’re far from alone.

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness each year. After anxiety, depression is the second most common mental health problem in the United States, affecting nearly 21 million people.

Although living with depression can be difficult, treatment options are available. You might find it helpful to add medication to your depression treatment plan.

If you are considering asking your doctor for medication, you may be wondering about Effexor for depression. Is it a better option than other antidepressants? And what can you expect when taking it?

Doctors prescribe Effexor to millions of Americans every year. And research shows that it can be a very effective treatment for depression.

A study 2016 involving 53 people with MDD found that Effexor significantly reduced their symptoms of depression, and a greater 2015 Japanese study over 500 people also found that taking Effexor significantly improved symptoms of depression in people with MDD.

One of the main symptoms of depression is feeling bad. People with MDD may have lower levels of serotonin, the brain’s “happiness chemistry.” Effexor helps increase and regulate serotonin levels in the brain, which can help improve your mood.

The most common antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They work to increase serotonin levels and prevent serotonin from entering the bloodstream, so more of it stays in the brain.

Effexor is another type of antidepressant called SNRI. It works to regulate serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating your body’s stress response.

A analysis of 2009 studies suggests that venlafaxine is more effective in treating symptoms of depression than SSRIs.

A more recent study 2020 indicates that SNRIs like Effexor act faster than SSRIs. This could be due to their effect on dopamine, a mood-related neurotransmitter.

The speed of action of Effexor varies from person to person. Some people may see improvement faster than others, and it may not work for everyone.

Doctors cannot prescribe Effexor if you:

  • are under 18
  • have high blood pressure
  • living with a seizure disorder
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

It is a good idea to speak with a doctor about your current situation and medical history before taking Effexor.

Some studies suggest that SNRIs are better than SSRIs for treating depression, but other research suggests otherwise.

Effexor vs. Zoloft

Zoloft (sertraline) is an FDA-approved medication for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

A 2016 Iranian study involving a group of 34 people with MDD found Effexor and Zoloft equally effective in reducing symptoms of depression. And one 2005 Randomized Clinical Trial found both drugs equally effective in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.

But other research suggests that Zoloft may be more effective.

A meta-analysis 2009 comparing the effects of 12 different antidepressants suggests that sertraline may be “the best choice” due to its overall benefits.

And one 2014 double-blind randomized trial the study of the impact of antidepressants on people with Alzheimer’s disease and depression considers sertraline to be the most effective option.

Effexor vs. Celexa

How does Celexa (citalopram) compare to Effexor? The research shows a somewhat mixed picture.

A Placebo-controlled trial from 2015 in a small group of postmenopausal women found that venlafaxine had a greater effect on reducing symptoms of depression than citalopram.

A 2008 study found both venlafaxine and citalopram effective in treating MDD, although the researchers noted that venlafaxine might be a better option for people with more severe symptoms. A 2004 study found both drugs to be equally effective in treating depression, but noted that citalopram worked faster.

And the more recent 2018 results of a large-scale meta-analysis of 522 clinical trials suggest that although citalopram and venlafaxine are effective, citalopram may cause fewer side effects overall.

All drugs have the potential to cause side effects, and Effexor is no exception.

The most common side effects of venlafaxine include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • insomnia
  • hot flashes
  • dry mouth

Although rare, serious side effects can occur. These may include:

  • serotonin syndrome
  • muscle pain or weakness
  • changes in your menstrual cycle
  • cough or urinate blood
  • high blood pressure
  • suicidal thoughts
  • vision changes

It is also common to experience withdrawal effects when stopping SNRIs. When weaning from an SNRI, you might experience:

While research is mixed on whether Effexor is a better option than other antidepressants, numerous studies suggest that it can be a very effective treatment for depression.

If you suffer from depression and are looking for a potential treatment, you may find it helpful to discuss Effexor with a doctor. A doctor can discuss the pros and cons of this drug with you and help you determine if it is the best option for your needs.

It may take some trial and error before you find a medication that works for you. You may find it helpful to incorporate things like therapy and lifestyle changes into your treatment plan as well. Additionally, joining a support group can help you navigate treatment and life in general.

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