Zoloft for Depression

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

Q. What is Zoloft, and what chemically does it do? My doctor has prescribed it for me for depression, and I'd like to know more about it.

A. Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) which increases the levels of a chemical called serotonin, felt to be an important part of controlling a wide variety of basic functioning including mood, appetite, and sleep regulation.

Persons who are depressed seem to have either a deficiency of serotonin or altered metabolism of this chemical. By preventing the reuptake of serotonin by Pacman-like scavengers in the nervous system, the serotonin stays in the bloodstream longer. This can help promote sleep, decrease anxiety, or decrease depressive symptoms.

Other drugs in the class of SSRIs include Prozac and Paxil, both of which are indicated for depression. Each of these drugs differ slightly in their side effect profile and should be tailored to each patient.

There will be a slight adjustment period for the first week and then you should start to see some effect from the medication. Some of the side effects may be nausea or diarrhea; if you take the medication with a meal, these effects may be lessened.

Finally, do not suddenly stop this drug or mix other drugs such as decongestants with Zoloft without first speaking with your doctor. In general, this is a very safe and effective medication.