Antidepressants and Nausea: Understanding the Link


Antidepressants are a popular class of medications used to treat various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, one of the most common side effects reported by patients taking antidepressants is nausea. Nausea is an unpleasant sensation of wanting to vomit that can result in loss of appetite and energy. While the exact cause of antidepressant-induced nausea is not fully understood, this article will explore what is currently known about the mechanisms and types of antidepressant nausea.

The Mechanisms of Antidepressant Nausea

The mechanisms of antidepressant-induced nausea are complex and still not entirely understood. However, some possible explanations include the activation of specific receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, the adjustment of neurotransmitter levels in the brain, reduced gastric motility, and induction of serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome is a rare but severe condition that results from excessive serotonin levels in the brain.

Activation of Specific Receptors in the Gastrointestinal Tract

Some types of antidepressants are known to stimulate specific receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, such as the 5-HT3 receptor. When stimulated, these receptors trigger the release of substances that cause vomiting and nausea. Examples of antidepressants that may activate 5-HT3 receptors include sertraline, venlafaxine, and paroxetine.

Neurotransmitter Levels in the Brain

Antidepressants work by adjusting levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, primarily serotonin and norepinephrine. While these adjustments can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression, some patients may experience nausea as a side effect. This nausea may be related to changes in the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the central nervous system. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine, citalopram, and escitalopram, increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can lead to nausea.

Reduced Gastric Motility

Antidepressants can also cause reduced gastric motility or the slowing down of digestion in the stomach. This slower movement can cause food to stay in the stomach for longer than usual, leading to nausea and discomfort. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are notorious for this side effect.

Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is a rare but severe side effect caused by excessive serotonin levels in the brain. While most cases of serotonin syndrome occur when patients take multiple medications that increase serotonin levels, some antidepressants can also cause this condition. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include headache, agitation, confusion, muscle rigidity, and high fever, among others. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Types of Antidepressant Nausea

There are several types of antidepressant-induced nausea, each with its own unique symptoms and characteristics. The different types of antidepressant nausea are discussed below.

Immediate-Onset Nausea

Immediate-onset nausea is nausea that occurs within a few hours of taking an antidepressant, lasting usually for a short period. The intensity of symptoms can vary depending on the medication and individual, with some patients experiencing mild symptoms and others experiencing severe. Immediate-onset nausea is most commonly associated with SSRIs and SNRIs.

Delayed-Onset Nausea

Delayed-onset nausea is the nausea that develops after days, weeks, or even months of taking antidepressants. Some patients find that they experience nausea after being on their medication for some time, while others experience nausea during the first few weeks of treatment. Delayed-onset nausea is common with tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

Intermittent Nausea

Intermittent nausea is nausea that occurs periodically, often in association with increased anxiety or stress. Some patients find that they experience more nausea on days when they are anxious or depressed, and less on days when they are relaxed. Intermittent nausea can occur with any type of antidepressant.

Treatment and Management of Antidepressant Nausea

Fortunately, there are several ways to manage and treat antidepressant-induced nausea. The most effective treatment will depend on the type of nausea and the underlying cause. Some of the most common methods of treating and managing antidepressant nausea are discussed below.

Moderation and Timing

Taking medication with food is one of the easiest and most effective ways of preventing nausea. Additionally, it is recommended to take medication at a consistent time each day, which allows for better absorption and reduces the chances of side effects. If a patient’s nausea persists despite these measures, their doctor may suggest altering the dose or changing to a different medication.

Anti-Nausea Medications

Anti-nausea medication can be used to manage the symptoms of antidepressant-induced nausea. One common option is over-the-counter medication such as antihistamines or simethicone, which can reduce the sensation of nausea. However, patients should consult with their doctors before trying any new medication.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Reducing stress and anxiety can help to manage intermittent and delayed-onset nausea. This can include practicing stress management techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation. Additionally, some patients may benefit from counseling or therapy to address the underlying causes of their anxiety or stress.

Switching to a Different Medication

If nausea persists despite other interventions, the doctor may consider switching the patient to a different medication or adjusting the dosage. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and medical history, the doctor may suggest trying a medication with different mechanisms of action or a different class of antidepressants altogether.


Antidepressant-induced nausea is a common side effect of many medications used to treat mental health disorders. The mechanisms that underlie this side effect are still not fully understood but may include changes in neurotransmitter levels, activation of specific gastrointestinal receptors, reduced gastric motility, and serotonin syndrome. There are several types of antidepressant nausea, including immediate-onset, delayed-onset, and intermittent nausea. Treatment and management options include moderation and timing, anti-nausea medications, reducing stress and anxiety, and switching to a different medication. By working closely with their healthcare provider, patients can find the most effective and safe treatment for their symptoms.


FAQs about Antidepressants Nausea

What causes nausea when taking antidepressants?

Nausea is a common side effect of antidepressants and is caused by the effect that the medication has on the chemicals in your brain. Antidepressants work by changing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can affect the digestive system and lead to nausea.

How can I reduce the nausea caused by antidepressants?

There are several things you can do to reduce nausea caused by antidepressants, including taking the medication with food, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding spicy or fatty foods. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe anti-nausea medication or adjust the dosage of your antidepressant to alleviate side effects.

Is nausea a sign that my antidepressant isn’t working?

No, nausea is a common side effect of antidepressants and is not necessarily a sign that the medication isn’t working. However, if you experience other side effects or your symptoms worsen, you should talk to your doctor as they may need to adjust your medication or recommend a different treatment plan.


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