While researchers are not fully certain how the nerve signal transfers associated with these two neurotransmitters operate, preventing reabsorption of both effectively boosts the amount of each available to the brain. By blocking reuptake by other cells and providing a larger amount of norepinephrine and serotonin to the brain, SNRIs such as Effexor can help prevent depression and anxiety. SNRIs are a dual inhibitor. They are purportedly more effective than SSRIs at treating depression; however, the evidence remains unclear, and individuals may respond differently to SNRIs and SSRIs depending on their situation.
What Disorders Can Effexor Treat?
As an SNRI, Effexor XR is approved to treat multiple depression and anxiety-related disorders in adults by improving mood, energy level, and even your interest in daily living activities. However, the FDA has mandated a black box label for the drug, warning of increased suicidality in patients under 25; thus, approved treatments are for adults over 25 only.
Currently, Effexor is used to treat the following disorders:
General Anxiety Disorder
GAD occurs when a person experiences excessive anxiety, worry, and other symptoms for six months or more. Additional symptoms can include:
- Restlessness or inability to sleep
- Sleep disturbances
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle tension
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depressive disorder, also known as MDD, is perhaps best known simply as depression. While the primary symptom of depression is feeling depressed, sad, or even empty, many people with depression also feel worthless, hopeless, or suicidal. In addition, many people experience:
- Eating or sleeping more or less than usual
- Low energy
- Nervous energy and agitation
- Thoughts of death and dying
Panic disorder involves sudden, repeated feelings of intense anxiety, fear, and panic. Over time, an individual can develop feelings of fear in anticipation of experiencing the next panic episode. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Individuals experiencing social anxiety primarily present as fear of being judged by others. The most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty speaking
Physicians can prescribe Effexor for other common uses aside from those approved by the FDA. However, these physicians must be able to demonstrate thorough reasoning for such prescriptions. Currently, Effexor is sometimes prescribed for off-label uses, such as the treatment of these disorders:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD)
- Hot flashes
- Migraine prevention
- Diabetic neuropathy
What Are Some Effexor Side Effects?
While Effexor can prove effective for the above conditions, like many other prescription medications, it comes with a host of potentially negative side effects. Many Effexor side effects can be described as minor but may make taking the medication less desirable than the depression or anxiety symptoms.
General side effects tend to decrease over time and can include:
- Restlessness and insomnia
Other side effects, such as increased blood pressure, and sexual side effects such as delayed orgasm and decreased libido, may be more lasting. Other side effects are much more medically significant and, while rare, can pose severe health risks.
Serious Effexor side effects include:
- Dangerously increased heart rate
- Changes in urination and kidney function, including increased urination or difficulty urinating
- Low sodium levels, indicated by headache, difficulty focusing, and weakness
- Increased bleeding, including gastrointestinal, vaginal, and other forms of excessive bleeding
- Serotonin syndrome—a dangerously high level of serotonin that can cause shivering, fever, seizures, and death
- Increased suicidality, particularly in individuals under age 25
- Mood “switching,” also known as Effexor mania
One of the unique side effects of Effexor use is mood “switching,” perhaps better known as Effexor mania. In Effexor mania, some patients experiencing depression, anxiety, or other related mood disorders initially experience mood modulation after using SNRI medications such as Effexor. However, there can be mood “switches” from a depressive state to a manic state very similar to the mania experienced during bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of Effexor mania include:
- Decreased need or desire to sleep
- Increased energy and agitation
- Abnormal jumpiness, or a “wired” feeling
- Racing thoughts
- Increased distractibility
- Increased talkativeness
In a study of 21,000 adults treated for major depression, researchers found that Effexor seemed to increase mania instances by as much as 35% up to 24 months after the first dose. However, it is worth noting that many of these people may have had pre-existing bipolar disorder or a family predisposition to experiencing mania. In addition, the study consisted of a large group of adults and noted that the peak age for Effexor mania was between 25 and 34.
Teenage and adolescent individuals with depression appear even more likely to experience Effexor mania. While many of these cases may be attributed to previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder, some occur with no other bipolar disorder symptoms. Cases have been noted in elderly individuals as well, resulting in an overall rate of Effexor mania resting at 5% to 6% of all individuals taking the drug.
Quitting Effexor and Effexor Withdrawal Symptoms
As a result of the above side effects, some patients experiencing multiple minor side effects, as well as those experiencing more severe side effects, may choose to discontinue use altogether. In these cases, stopping use can cause Effexor withdrawal symptoms to occur. Worse, stopping use abruptly or without medical oversight can cause severe, potentially dangerous, and even life-threatening Effexor withdrawal.
Symptoms of Effexor withdrawal can begin as soon as a few hours after the last dose, depending on the regular dose taken as well as each individual. While most minor withdrawal symptoms can dissipate over the course of a few days, other severe withdrawal symptoms have been known to continue for weeks or months.
Common Effexor withdrawal symptoms include:
- Brain zaps—electrical buzz or sensation within the head and neck
- Brain fog
It is crucial to avoid halting Effexor suddenly to avoid dangerous or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that require medical assistance or cause you to take Effexor again. Instead, taper back on the medication gradually. Also, most people can benefit from seeking professional management of the medication and its withdrawal symptoms via a professionally guided program.
If you are experiencing some of the above-listed symptoms of major depression, GAD, social anxiety, panic disorder, or one of the other off-label conditions commonly treated by Effexor, alternatives may provide a viable solution. Similarly, if you are taking Effexor and experiencing negative side effects—including Effexor mania—it may be time to consider an alternative. However, it is important to safely taper off Effexor and consult a physician regarding all alternative options.
Then, you may begin to consider some of the natural methods of achieving mental health offered here at Alternative to Meds Center. Depending on your depression or anxiety symptoms, holistic methods can help you manage these disorders and avoid the many negative side effects of taking Effexor and other prescription antidepressants. Ultimately, the Alternative to Meds Center can help you safely and comfortably cease Effexor use and improve your mental health via proven natural methods.