What are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)?

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that became a first-line treatment for many anxiety disorders during the 1990s. The serotonin system is active in many regions of the brain, affecting anxiety, mood, arousal, impulses, and aggression. SSRIs work by slowing the reuptake of serotonin, which means they prevent the neurons that release this neurotransmitter from reabsorbing it quickly. This prolongs the time that the serotonin can work at receptor sites in the brain. SSRIs also appear to change the number and sensitivity of receptors and may indirectly influence other neurotransmitters that play a role in anxiety, including norepinephrine and dopamine.

The main reason for the popularity of SSRIs is that they have fewer and less troublesome side effects than do older medications for anxiety, and are less toxic if taken as an overdose. SSRIs are prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are several kinds of SSRIs, each with a slightly different mode of action.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), and Lexapro (escitalopram). They are the commonly used first-line agents for depression and many anxiety disorders.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are of a group of drugs that affect the way the brain works. SSRIs affect how much of a specific neurotransmitter (brain chemical) called serotonin is present between the brain cells. Neurotransmitters communicate messages between brain cells. When too much serotonin is removed from between the brain cells, the communication does not work normally. As a result, problems arise. These problems include depression, panic, anxiet, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being removed from the space between brain cells.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders like panic attacks, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. 

This class of medication works by increasing the amount of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter that’s really important for mood) available to your brain. Think about your child’s room (or your room when you were little) at the end of the day when all of the toys are out and accessible. Now if you prevent your parent or nanny (or wiggle out of the chore yourself) from picking up and putting away all the toys, they will still be around for you to play with longer. SSRIs work the same way. They prevent the brain’s clean-up crews from clearing away all the serotonin that’s been released, so your brain has more of it available for longer. 

Examples of SSRIs include: paroxetine (brand name Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac/Sarafem), sertraline (Zoloft), and citalopram (Celexa). 

Common side effects include decreased sex drive, nausea or vomiting, and drowsiness.


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