Sertraline Contulen, Lustral, Zoloft

Last updated by Peer reviewed by Sid Dajani
Last updated Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

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Try to take sertraline at the same time each day.

It may take up to four weeks after starting this treatment before you feel the full benefit. Do not stop taking it, feeling it is not helping.

Tell your doctor if you feel that you are not getting any better, or if you experience any troublesome side-effects.

Type of medicineA selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant
Used forDepression, and anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Also called (UK)Contulen®; Lustral®
Also called (USA)Zoloft®
Available asTablets, oral liquid medicine (USA)

Sertraline is prescribed for depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An anxiety disorder is a condition where anxiety is a major symptom. Panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all anxiety disorders. OCD is a condition where you have recurring and persistent ideas that make you do repetitive actions.

Brain cells, called neurons, release a number of chemicals which go on to stimulate other neurons. This leads to electrical impulses which result in many functions controlled by the brain. Serotonin is one such chemical in the brain. Once released, it stimulates other neurons and is then taken back up into the neuron cells and recycled. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like sertraline increase the amount of circulating serotonin available in your brain. This can help the symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, and OCD.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking sertraline it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breastfeeding.
  • If you have a heart condition, or a liver or kidney disorder.
  • If you have epilepsy.
  • If you have high blood sugar levels (diabetes mellitus).
  • If you have an eye problem called glaucoma.
  • If you have ever had a bleeding disorder.
  • If you have ever had abnormally 'high' moods, called mania.
  • If you are being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • If you have taken an antidepressant known as a monoamine-oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) within the previous two weeks.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about sertraline and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Take sertraline exactly as your doctor tells you to - it is taken once daily. Most doctors recommend that it is taken either in the morning or in the evening. Try to take your doses at the same time of day each day. There are two strengths of tablet available - 50 mg and 100 mg. Your doctor will tell you which strength is right for you.
  • If you are being treated for an anxiety disorder, your doctor may prescribe a low dose for you to begin with, and then gradually increase it. This is because slowly increasing the dose helps to reduce the risk of side-effects.
  • You can take sertraline before or after food.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you do not remember until the following day, skip the missed dose. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • You may feel that sertraline is not working for you straightaway. It can take a week or two after starting this treatment before the effect begins to build up, and 4-6 weeks before you feel the full benefit. Do not stop taking it after a week or two, feeling it is not helping.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.
  • Do not drink grapefruit juice while you are on sertraline. This is because a chemical in grapefruit juice increases the amount of sertraline in your bloodstream. This makes side-effects more likely.
  • If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor for advice. Your doctor is likely to recommend that you do not drink alcohol while you are on sertraline, as it increases the risk of side-effects, such as feeling sleepy.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with sertraline. This is because several medicines which are available from general retail outlets can interfere with this treatment. In particular, do not take the herbal remedy St John's wort, and ask for advice before buying any anti-inflammatory painkillers.
  • While you are taking sertraline, you may have thoughts about harming yourself or ending your life. These thoughts may also be associated with your condition. It is very important that you tell your doctor about this if it happens.
  • Do not stop taking sertraline unless your doctor tells you to do so. Stopping treatment suddenly can cause problems and your doctor will probably want you to reduce your dose gradually when this becomes necessary. You should expect that a course of treatment will last for several months. This is normal and helps to prevent your symptoms from recurring.
  • If you have diabetes, you may need to check your blood glucose more frequently, as sertraline may affect the levels of sugar in your blood. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
  • A few people taking sertraline find that their skin is more sensitive to sunlight than normal. Until you know how your skin reacts, use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) in strong sunlight.
  • There are several types of antidepressants and they differ in their possible side-effects. If you find that sertraline does not suit you then let your doctor know, as another may be found that will.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with sertraline. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Common sertraline side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
Feeling sleepy, dizzy or weakIf this happens, do not drive and do not use tools or machines
Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting), constipation or diarrhoea, indigestionStick to simple foods
HeadacheDrink plenty of water and ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. If the headaches continue, let your doctor know
Mood changes such as feeling anxious, nervous or agitated. Feeling restless or shakyThis may happen when you first start taking sertraline but it usually settles within a few days. If it becomes troublesome or severe, speak with your doctor
Dry mouth, difficulty sleeping, bad dreams, sore throat, tingling feelings, lack of concentration, eyesight problems, ringing noises, flushing, sweating, yawning, reduced sexual drive or ability, change in appetite, aches or pains, swallowing problemsSpeak with your doctor if any of these become troublesome

Important: a few people taking sertraline have developed an allergic-type reaction. You should contact your doctor straightaway if you develop any swelling around your face, any difficulties breathing, or a severe rash.

On rare occasions, medicines that affect the level of serotonin in the brain can cause it to go too high and cause problems. The risk is higher if you are taking more than one medicine with this effect. Seek medical attention if you develop any combination of the following:

  • Stiff muscles or 'jerky' movements.
  • Unusually fast heartbeat.
  • High temperature (fever), feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting), diarrhoea.
  • Feeling delirious or seeing visions (hallucinating).

If you experience any other symptoms that you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

If you are having an operation or any dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

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