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Can Your Depression Medication Affect Your Sex Life?

Takeda and Lundbeck are pharmaceutical companies that manufacture prescription drugs.

We all feel down or sad at times. These feelings can be triggered by any number of life’s struggles. But what about when you feel that way for days or even weeks? When these emotions occur, you might be dealing with something more complex or just harder to understand.

It could be depression also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) a condition that affects approximately 17 million people annually and is not only sadness. Depression manifests as a complicated set of symptoms including depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in things once enjoyed, trouble thinking clearly, being tired a lot, and being restless or moving slowly. Everyone experiences depression differently, and one person’s symptoms may not be the same as another’s.

Doctors prescribe treatment plans to patients based upon multiple factors. Treatment plans can include medications, psychotherapy and brain stimulation therapies. While antidepressants are approved to be effective based on clinical trials, there are also potential side effects to be aware of. Side effects from treatment can include nausea, vomiting, weight gain, changes in sleep, treatment-emergent sexual dysfunction (TESD), and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Depression is a serious and complicated condition that is common but treatable. It’s important to have a conversation with your doctor to understand different treatment plans and their benefits and risks. Don’t be afraid to have an open and honest conversation about what you’re experiencing, and any questions or concerns you may have.

Depression is complex

  • Depression is a complex medical condition that has many symptoms, some of which may include:

    • Sad or low mood or feeling “blue”

    • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

    • Low energy, sleep problems and changes in appetite or weight

    • Difficulty concentrating

Depression is treatable

  • However, there is still stigma about seeking help for depression. Up to 35% of adult Americans don’t seek the help they need possibly out of fear, embarrassment or shame of disclosing they have a mental health condition.

  • There are many treatment options for patients with depression that you can discuss with your healthcare provider including talk therapy, as well as medications like antidepressants.

    • There are chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that control mood and stress. Antidepressants may work by changing the activity of these brain chemicals to work properly.

  • Antidepressant treatment options include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which are the most commonly prescribed, as well as SNRIs (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) and others.

Side effects from some antidepressants may impact your sex life

  • Along with nausea and vomiting, weight gain, diarrhea, sleepiness, suicidal thoughts and actions, and others, some prescribed medications for depression including SSRIs, SNRIs and others are associated with treatment-emergent sexual dysfunction (TESD).

  • TESD can affect different types of sexual responses and is experienced by 25% to 80% of patients taking antidepressants.

  • Patients experiencing TESD due to their antidepressants may have trouble reaching and achieving orgasm or ejaculating and, in some cases, may experience a reduction in libido or the ability to achieve and maintain an erection or vaginal lubrication.

  • These issues can be stressful for patients with depression, and if left unaddressed, can extend or worsen the depression itself. They can also be a reason for patients to stop following their treatment plans — one study found that sexual side effects, specifically the inability to have an orgasm and loss of interest in sex, were leading causes of treatment discontinuation.

An honest conversation with your doctor can help, especially about sensitive topics like sex

  • Developing a successful treatment plan isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach — it may be a combination of psychotherapy, medication(s) and/or brain stimulation therapies.

  • Talking to a doctor is an important step to finding an appropriate treatment plan because MDD treatments impact patients in different ways, including sexual function.

  • There are options. Regardless of what kind of treatment plan is chosen, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with a doctor about all symptoms and side effects to find the right plan for you.

Dr. Anita Clayton’s clinical practice and research interests focus on women’s mental health and sexual dysfunctions. She is the David C. Wilson Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, with a secondary appointment as professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology. She is board certified in psychiatry and neurology.

Disclosure: Dr. Clayton was not compensated for this article but has acted as a consultant for Takeda and Lundbeck. Dr. Clayton is also a consultant to or on the advisory boards of Acadia, Alkermes, Allergan, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Inc, Dare Bioscience, Fabre-Kramer, Ovaca Bio plc, Palatin Technologies, PureTech Health, S1 Biopharma, Sage Therapeutics, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, WCG MedAvantge-Prophase.

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