If you’re living with a mental health condition like depression, you may have been prescribed a medication like Zoloft to help manage your symptoms. If you’re at this point, congrats—it means you’re ready to start feeling better and you’ve worked out a safe, effective treatment plan with your doctor. So how long do you have to wait before you feel the effects of Zoloft? We turned to our team of board-certified psychiatrists for answers.
You may hear Zoloft used interchangeably with sertraline. Sertraline is the generic form of the brand name Zoloft. Zoloft is an antidepressant, a type of medication that increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain.
Zoloft is typically prescribed to people living with a range of mental health conditions, as it has been shown to be effective in managing the symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression. Some conditions it can treat include major depressive disorder (MDD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder.
Zoloft belongs to a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin (a type of chemical messenger that controls mood, emotions, and sleep) in the brain.
Your brain and your body release serotonin throughout the day for a variety of purposes—to speed up digestion, affect your sleep, and more. Your blood platelets can even release serotonin to help with wound healing. In the brain, serotonin is thought to be a natural mood stabilizer—laughing at a TV show or exercising can trigger serotonin release.
Once the serotonin has done its job, it’s reabsorbed by nerve cells in the brain, a process known as “reuptake.” SSRIs block, or inhibit, the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, so more of it is available. This is thought to have a positive, overall stabilizing effect on your mood and emotions.
Changes in brain chemistry do not happen overnight. That said, some people notice improvements within the first 1-2 weeks of taking Zoloft. More typically, it takes 4-6 weeks to feel the full effects of this medication.
If you haven’t noticed any effect from your medication after 4 weeks, speak to your healthcare provider. They may recommend increasing your dose of Zoloft or trying a different medication. Your doctor will help you explore different treatment options.
Although both PCPs and psychiatrists can both prescribe antidepressants like Zoloft, remember that psychiatrists have extensive experience with these drugs and their effects, as well as extensive experience treating a range of mental health conditions. If you’re worried about taking medication to treat your condition, it may be a good idea to see a psychiatrist to ensure your treatment plan is carefully adjusted to your specific situation.
It’s important to take your medication exactly as prescribed in order to ensure that it has the best chance of working effectively. If you miss a dose of medication, take the missed dose as soon as possible. However, if it’s almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and take your next dose as usual.
All medications have the potential to cause side effects, including Zoloft. The most common side effects of Zoloft include:
Usually, side effects will become milder and/or easier to tolerate with time. However, if you experience worsening side effects or if at any point, you’re concerned about side effects you’re experiencing while on Zoloft, speak with your healthcare provider right away. Sudden discontinuation of Zoloft can be dangerous so be sure to speak with your prescribing doctor before making changes to your medication.
While the most common side effects reported with Zoloft are mild, there is a small chance of more serious side effects. For example, if you have an underlying condition like bipolar disorder I, taking Zoloft may put you at risk of shifting into a manic episode. Other more serious side effects include increased suicidal thoughts and a rare condition known as serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening side effect of serotonin boosting medications like Zoloft. Very rarely, the body is unable to handle the increased serotonin levels caused by these medications, which leads to serotonin syndrome.
Mild symptoms of serotonin syndrome include sweating, tremors, increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and nervousness. These can quickly progress to more serious symptoms, including confusion, high blood pressure, elevated temperature, uncontrolled body movements, or seizures. If you experience any of these symptoms while on a serotonin-boosting medication, seek emergency medical care right away.
Serotonin syndrome is most common in people taking more than one serotonin-boosting medication, certain supplements, or those who have just started or increased their dosage of medication. Most people can safely take an appropriately prescribed dose of a serotonin-boosting medication without issue. Make sure your doctor is aware of any medications or supplements you are taking before starting Zoloft.
Only a licensed provider, like a psychiatrist, can prescribe antidepressant medications, including Zoloft. Because of the potential for side effects as well as the careful dosing requirements, it’s important to take these medications under the supervision of a licensed professional.
If you think you might benefit from a prescription antidepressant like Zoloft, the first step is to make an appointment with a licensed healthcare provider, like a psychiatrist. You’ll have the opportunity to discuss your symptoms, receive an accurate diagnosis, and work out a treatment plan, which may include a combination of medication and supportive therapy.
Zoloft is one type of antidepressant but there are several other options available. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best medication for your needs. To read more about other types of antidepressants like Cymbalta (duloxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram) check out: How to Get Medication for Depression
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The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado is double board-certified in general psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. She received her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. She then moved to New York to complete her residency training At Mount Sinai Beth Israel where she stayed to complete her fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. After her fellowship, she proceeded to work at Woodhull Hospital where she worked as an attending before becoming unit chief and running their Special Pathogens Unit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She focuses on medication management and offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, a focus on nutritional psychiatry, and 30-minute follow-up visits.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado focuses on integrating nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness techniques alongside pharmacotherapy to achieve a well-rounded approach to mental health.