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How Effective Is Sertraline for Anxiety?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Taking sertraline for anxiety may help reduce symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety as effectively as anti-anxiety medications. Historically, anti-anxiety medications were thought to be best for treating anxiety disorders, but studies have shown that antidepressant medications such as sertraline, or combinations of sertraline and other conventional medicines, may be as effective in treating anxiety as anti-anxiety medications.

Sertraline is also used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. People who suffer from anxiety or depression may have serotonin deficits. Taking sertraline for anxiety works to increase the levels of serotonin, which is a brain chemical responsible for a positive mood. When considering sertraline for anxiety, the patient should consult a health care provider who can explain side effects. Sertraline side effects include stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

Other sertraline side effects include loss of appetite, dizziness, fatigue, and bloating. Those taking sertraline for anxiety should also note that this medication can cause rare, but serious side effects including seizures, visual problems, hallucinations, and irregular heart beat. When these side effects occur, emergency medical intervention is necessary. Sertraline should never be abruptly stopped by the patient, because doing so can cause seizures and cardiac problems. As with other antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, a health care professional should wean patients off this medicine.

One of the greatest risks of taking sertraline is that it may cause suicidal thoughts. This has been especially noticed in children, teenagers, and young adults. It is very important that those in these age groups keep in close contact with their health care providers who can monitor their treatment, symptoms, and progress. If a patient has thoughts of harming himself, an experienced mental health professional must immediately evaluate him.

Unlike anti-anxiety medications, taking sertraline for anxiety will not provide the person with immediate relief from symptoms. Anti-anxiety medications often provide relief from anxiety within minutes, while antidepressants often take weeks to relieve symptoms. Sometimes, the health care provider may prescribe anti-anxiety medications during this period to help stave off anxiety attacks until the blood levels of sertraline have risen to therapeutic levels.

In addition to medication, other treatments for anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking may also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, as might avoiding beverages that contain caffeine, which is a stimulant. Beta blockers, a heart medication, are also sometimes used to alleviate symptoms of a racing heart, profuse sweating, chest tightness or pain, and shortness of breath that may accompany anxiety attacks.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Jul 15, 2013

I agree with the article, it takes a while for sertraline to work. It took two months for me to start feeling better on the drug. I had almost started thinking that it was just not working.

By literally45 — On Jul 15, 2013

@turkay1-- Sertraline is an SSRI. It makes you feel better by preventing the brain from absorbing serotonin to recycle. There is more serotonin available in the brain which reduces anxiety and depression.

Of course, after a while, our brain gets used to having higher levels of serotonin. If you quit the medication cold-turkey, it will definitely cause some unpleasant withdrawal effects. But if you reduce the dose very slowly and allow your brain to adjust, you will be fine.

The good part is that sertraline has a high half-life, it's about twenty-six hours. So it takes twenty-six hours for half of the drug to leave your body. SSRIs with longer half-lives are easier to quit.

By candyquilt — On Jul 14, 2013

I've been on sertraline for six months for anxiety and it has made a huge difference for me. My anxiety is gone and I feel so much happier in general. I have no idea why I put up with anxiety for so long.

The only thing I'm worried about is addiction and withdrawal. Am I going to take this medication forever? If I decide to quit, will it be very difficult?

Has anyone taken and then quit sertraline? What happened? Did your anxiety come back? Did you have withdrawal symptoms?

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