There are almost as many types and subtypes of antidepressant drugs as there are disorders and conditions with depressive or anxiety symptoms. This is because each of them presents singularities that can be effective for each of the disorders.

One of these drugs is venlafaxine, an antidepressant that was first introduced in 1993 and has since become one of the most widely prescribed medications for depression.

What is venlafaxine?

Venlafaxine is an antidepressant included in the category of Selective Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) , being the most common and administered of the entire range. It is mainly prescribed in cases of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and in specific cases of anxiety disorders with depression.

Selective Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors have an effect on these two neurotransmitters, which play an important role in people’s moods.

On a functional level, the action of venlafaxine is related to that of tricyclic antidepressants. However, since they do not interfere with muscarinic, histaminergic or alpha-adrenergic receptors, they do not exert as much of their unwanted side effects, which include sedative, hypnotic or side effects affecting the cardiovascular system.

Finally, administered in very high doses, venlafaxine also exerts a subtle dopamine reuptake inhibitory effect ; since recent studies have shown that the noradrenaline conductor also carries dopamine in small amounts.

If, in addition, we take into account that the reuptake of serotonin in the frontal cortex will also activate dopamine and that this brain region hardly possesses any dopamine receptors; venlafaxine will favour the neurotransmission of dopamine also in the frontal cortex.

In what disorders is it used?

As discussed above, venlafaxine is an antidepressant. Therefore, this is a psychodrug administered both in cases of depressive disorders and in some disorders with anxious symptoms.

Venlafaxine is mainly used in patients with major depressive disorder . This condition is characterized by persistent, invasive low mood. In addition, it is often associated with low self-esteem and a lack of interest or enjoyment in activities that were previously considered pleasurable.

However, it is sometimes administered by extended release capsules for certain anxiety related disorders. These include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder : the person experiences an exaggerated and uncontrollable worry.
  • Social anxiety disorder -exacerbated fear of interaction with other people
  • Panic disorder : sudden and unexpected crises of intense fear and feelings of worry associated with these crises.

Finally, venlafaxine is also administered in some cases of narcolepsy sleep disorder. The reason is that, thanks to its effects on the serotonergic and adrenergic systems, it can help moderate the episodes of muscular fragility or cataplexy associated with this condition.

How is it administered?

Venlafaxine is marketed in two different formats depending on the type of action: the usual tablets or extended release capsules. In any case, as it is a drug, its use must always be indicated by a doctor.

In general, the tablets should be taken two to three times a day while in the extended release capsules one dose a day is sufficient and can be administered in the morning or evening. Due to the effects of this antidepressant, a gradual start of treatment is recommended , starting with a small daily dose of venlafaxine that will be progressively increased once every 4 or 7 days.

However, regardless of the case or condition of the patient, he or she should always follow the instructions given by his or her doctor, who will adjust the dose to the condition of the patient.

Under no circumstances can the patient modify the doses of venlafaxine, nor stop taking it or take it in more than the recommended amount; since this can lead to serious consequences for the person’s health, such as abstinence syndrome .

If you feel that the medication is not working or is harming you, you should contact your doctor to adjust it before you change anything on your own.

Side effects of this drug

Like all antidepressant drugs, venlafaxine can exert a number of side effects on the person. These can be distinguished as serious or non-serious side effects.

If the patient experiences any of the non-serious side effects in a serious or recurring manner, it is recommended that the patient inform his doctor so that he can adjust the dose. In the case of serious side effects, the patient should contact the doctor immediately.

Minor side effects

These are the mild side effects of venlafaxine.

  • Drowsiness .
  • Feeling tired.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headaches.
  • Nightmares.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Gastrointestinal problems .
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight.
  • Tremors .
  • Muscle tension and/or spasms.
  • Sweating .
  • Problems with urination.
  • Throat infections.
  • Alterations in sexual desire.

Serious side effects

Among the most serious side effects of venlafaxine are the following.

  • Skin problems such as rashes, hives, or itching
  • Breathing and swallowing problems
  • Chest pain.
  • Arrhythmias.
  • Seizures.
  • Cardinals for no apparent reason.
  • Vision problems.
  • Fevers .
  • Alteration in coordination.
  • Hallucinations .
  • Temporary coma.

Finally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), following a recent study linking the use of antidepressants (specifically venlafaxine) to an increased risk of suicide, requires that all antidepressants include a warning about this possible contingency.

What precautions should be taken?

Like the side effects, venlafaxine also has a number of contraindications or conditions to be considered before starting treatment. It will be necessary for the patient to inform his doctor of any special health conditions he has, whatever their nature.

Allergies, as well as all the drugs, vitamin supplements and natural complexes that the patient is consuming, should be reported in order to avoid possible interference with the treatment. The patient should also inform about his or her alcohol intake and eating habits, among other things because venlafaxine often causes significant weight loss.

The patient should also be aware that due to the effects of drowsiness caused by the medication, his or her ability to drive or operate heavy machinery may be impaired.

Finally, in cases of pregnancy, although there is no controlled research, some studies suggest that venlafaxine can double the risk of miscarriage, as well as significant malformations in the fetus. Therefore, it should only be administered in strictly justified and necessary cases.