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What Is the Connection between Sertraline and Diarrhea?

By Lee Johnson
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The most significant connection between the drug sertraline and diarrhea is that the digestive problem is one of the most common side effects of the drug. Upwards of 10% of the people who take the drug are expected to experience the condition, at least according to some studies and clinical trials. Sertraline is a popular antidepressant in many places and it is usually considered very effective in treating both depression and anxiety. Along with diarrhea patients often complain of nausea, fatigue, and insominia, among other things, but many determine that the tradeoffs are worth the benefits. Just the same, anyone who is concerned about the severity or duration of their symptoms is usually wise to get a medial opinion. Diarrhea that lasts for more than a few days or that seems to worsen with time can lead to more complicated health problems, and in these cases it may make sense to try a different drug.

How the Drug Works

Sertraline belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are designed to counteract depression. This effect is believed to be achieved by balancing out the levels of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters within the brain. Serotonin and noradrenaline are widely thought to be the most closely related to mood, and most antidepressant medicines focus on one of or both of these neurotransmitters. SSRIs such as sertraline balance out the levels of serotonin by preventing the nerves that create the chemical from taking it back up again. This results in more serotonin being available in the brain to stimulate other nerves and lift the patient’s mood.

A number of different drug brands incorporate sertraline, and depending on the exact composition of those medications diarrhea can be a more or less prominent side effect. In general, though, the two have been known to go hand in hand. As a consequence, most medications that contain sertraline at all can and often do cause mild bouts of intestinal upset.

Clinical Trials

Most countries around the world require that pharmaceutical drugs undergo extensive testing before they can be introduced to and sold on the market. These tests often look first for basic safety and uniformity, but most will also document side effects and look at connections between the drug and any other conditions, be they mild or serious. Clinical trials conducted on sertraline have widely confirmed the side effect link between sertraline and diarrhea. According to many studies, diarrhea is actually the second most likely side effect behind nausea.

Simply because it’s established doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable, though. Most tests have shown that fewer than one in five people who take this class of medication will be affected with this particular side effect. Still, it is common enough that people should be aware of it and know to watch for it.

Other Possible Side Effects

Like any drug, sertraline has both rare and common side effects. Rare side effects are generally much more serious and include things like heart problems, blood clotting issues, and even death. As their name implies, these are very unlikely to occur, and people shouldn’t usually be concerned about developing these sorts of problems if they’re otherwise in good health. The connection between sertraline and diarrhea falls much more on the “common” side of the spectrum, however, which means that patients shouldn’t be alarmed if it occurs.

Other common side effects of sertaline include insomnia, dry mouth and fatigue, all of which have been documented in a significant percentage of patients taking the treatment. Side effect like these are usually determined through the course of closed trials in which some participants take the drug and others take a placebo in order to show that the side effects are connected to the treatment and not an unrelated environmental factor.

When to Get Help

The diarrhea that accompanies sertraline use is relatively moderate in most cases, and usually lasts only for a few days. Problems can arise when the condition is more severe, as well as when it lasts for a week or more. Diarrhea can really dehydrate a person, and prolonged irritation can lead to inflammation of the bowels and, possibly, infection. Anyone who is concerned that their diarrhea is not letting up or is getting worse should usually schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider to get to the root of the problem. This is particularly important if the diarrhea is accompanied by symptoms like fever or dizziness, as these could indicate a more serious condition. In general, however, patients should continue taking their medication as schedules until advised to stop by the prescriber.

Other Causes of Diarrhea

If you think sertraline may not be the cause of your diarrhea, consider if one of the causes detailed below could be the reason for your digestive dilemma. 

Viral Infections 

Viral infections that cause diarrhea include rotavirus, norovirus, enteric adenoviruses, astrovirus, cytomegalovirus, and viral hepatitis viral gastroenteritis. All of these infections are serious and should be treated as fast as possible. Viral infections often cause acute and intense diarrhea, unlike more innocuous causes like food intolerance. 

Bacterial Infections

Infections, including Salmonella and E. coli, almost always lead to diarrhea. Other infections include Shigella, Campylobacter, Yersinia, and Clostridium spp. Prolonged and severe diarrhea often correlate with these infections, and you should seek medical treatment immediately. 

Parasitic Infections

When parasites live in your body, like tapeworms, they have a massive impact on your digestive tract and functions, often leading to diarrhea. If you experience diarrhea for long periods, like weeks or months, it could indicate a parasitic infection. 

Intestinal Diseases

Many intestinal diseases cause diarrhea. Some of these diseases are quite serious, while others can be inconvenient and unpleasant. Common intestinal diseases that cause diarrhea include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. 

A Food Intolerance

This cause is the most common and innocuous reason for diarrhea. Food intolerances are common and not as serious as food allergies, such as lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant and consume too much dairy, you may have some diarrhea for a few days, and the same goes for other food intolerances. 


Gallbladder or stomach surgery can cause diarrhea shortly after the procedure. This is typically not a cause for concern, but if it persists for more than a week or causes severe pain, you should visit a doctor to ensure nothing went wrong with the procedure. 

Other Medications That Cause Diarrhea

While sertraline can cause diarrhea, it's not the only medication that may be the issue. If you’re temporarily or permanently on one or more of the medications listed below with sertraline, it could be a combination of both medications causing diarrhea. 

  • Antibiotics
  • Metformin
  • Antidepressants (like sertraline)
  • Beta-Blockers
  • ACE Inhibitors and ARBs
  • Acid reducers
  • Digoxin
  • Colchicine
  • Lithium
  • Levothyroxine
  • Fibrates
  • Vitamin C
  • NSAIDs

Some of these medications are medically necessary for people to take. Luckily, there are some ways to counteract the side effects and stop or reduce the occurrence of diarrhea. 

Remedies for Diarrhea

If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause of diarrhea, and either way, do not want to cease taking your medications or reduce your dosage, try these remedies for stopping diarrhea. 


Because diarrhea forces many fluids out of your body, if you’re experiencing this digestive issue you must remain hydrated. Hydrating can also help combat diarrhea by balancing your body’s fluids. Avoid drinks, like alcohol and soda, that can dehydrate you, making it worse. 


Probiotics are an invaluable part of the human diet. Probiotics are the good bacteria your body needs to fight harmful bacteria and maintain a healthy gut and digestive tract. If you don’t get enough probiotics in your diet, adding more can combat diarrhea. Not only do probiotics help with diarrhea, but they can also help with constipation!

Probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Soft cheeses
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt/kefir
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green olives
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Pickles
  • Sourdough bread
  • Tempeh


Plenty of over-the-counter drugs can help manage diarrhea. Drugs like Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, and Imodium can help regulate your digestive system so that you don’t experience diarrhea due to your regular medications. You can take them daily or just as needed when the diarrhea symptoms start to act up. 

Eat Certain Foods

Eating probiotics can help combat diarrhea. But other foods can help solidify your stool. Try to incorporate these foods into your diet, especially during excessive diarrhea. 

  • Bananas 
  • White rice
  • Applesauce 
  • Toast 
  • Oatmeal 
  • Boiled or baked potatoes
  • Baked chicken
  • Chicken soup

Make sure to take the skins off potatoes and chicken, as the skins can cause digestive discomfort. 

Avoid Certain Foods

Lastly, you should avoid foods and substances that may worsen your diarrhea. When you have diarrhea, do not eat:

  • Alcohol
  • Apples 
  • Artificial sweeteners 
  • Beans 
  • Berries 
  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Coffee 
  • Corn 
  • Ice cream
  • Leafy greens
  • Milk 
  • Peas 
  • Peppers 
  • Prunes 
  • Tea 


If you’re struggling with diarrhea, it’s a good idea to examine your lifestyle to see if there are any culprits to blame. Whether diarrhea is due to Sertraline or food intolerance, it’s always wise to discuss these issues with your primary care provider if you have concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can sertraline cause diarrhea?

Though rare, sertraline can cause diarrhea in some patients. While not all sertraline users will experience it, the chance of this side effect rises with greater dosages. See your doctor right away if you develop any uncomfortable side effects while taking sertraline, such as diarrhea.

How long can diarrhea caused by sertraline last?

Sertraline-induced diarrhea may last anywhere from a few days to weeks. If the diarrhea lasts for more than a few weeks, see your doctor. If your diarrhea is severe or prolonged, your doctor could advise you to take a different prescription.

What are other side effects associated with sertraline?

Sertraline may also result in nausea, vomiting, headaches, dry mouth, lethargy, and sleeplessness in addition to diarrhea. If any of these symptoms worsen or last for a long time, you should see your doctor.

What should I do if I experience diarrhea while taking sertraline?

The best course of action if you suffer diarrhea while taking sertraline is to see your doctor. If the diarrhea continues or worsens, your doctor may advise adjusting your dosage or switching to a different medicine. Dehydration may be avoided by consuming lots of fluids.

Can I take over-the-counter medications to treat diarrhea caused by sertraline?

Using over-the-counter drugs to treat diarrhea brought on by sertraline is typically not advised. It's crucial to see your doctor if the diarrhea is severe or lasts for a long time. To assist you control your symptoms, your doctor could suggest an over-the-counter drug or a new kind of prescription entirely.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1007193 — On Jun 15, 2022

I have been suffering with diarrhea for a year. Have been really fed up. Never wanted to go out for fear of not being close to a toilet. Finally got an appointment with the gastroenterology department. Within minutes he asked me if I was taking an antidepressant. I said yes, Sertraline. He informed me that Sertraline causes diarrhea in some people. I have suffered for a whole year and find it amazing that my doctor did not realize the connection.

By anon947385 — On Apr 25, 2014

I've been on sertraline since January didn't have diarrhea at first, but the last two or three weeks have been awful. Is it normal to get side effects later on?

By turquoise — On May 22, 2013
@donasmrs-- You need to be patient with sertraline. It causes diarrhea in many people, but unless the dose is not increased, the diarrhea will go away eventually. This can take up to three months though and some people can't wait so long and so decided to change the medication.

Sertraline has been very effective for my depression, so I put up with the diarrhea for the first few months. I took over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication to counter the effects. And after the third month, my body got used to it and the diarrhea stopped.

I think sertraline is a good drug, it doesn't work for everyone but if it's treating your depression successfully, I think you can tolerate the diarrhea. Of course, you should ask your doctor about this too and not decide on your own.

By fify — On May 21, 2013

@donasmrs-- I can't speak for everyone but in my case, the diarrhea just got worse. I also had nausea from sertraline and with these two symptoms together, I started losing a lot of weight. I had to go to the bathroom so often that I was getting dehydrated as well. I had to switch to another medication for this reason.

By donasmrs — On May 20, 2013

I just started taking sertraline and it is giving me diarrhea. I'm wondering, will this side effect go away with time or will it continue?

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