How Do SSRIs Work?SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs affect a specific chemical within the brain known as serotonin. Serotonin is one of several chemicals used to send messages from one nerve cell to another.
As a message travels down a nerve, it causes the end of the cell to release serotonin. The serotonin enters the gap between the first nerve cell and the one next to it. When enough serotonin reaches the second nerve cell, it activates receptors on the cell and the message continues on its way. The first cell then quickly absorbs any serotonin that remains in the gap between the cells. This is called "reuptake."
Normally, this process works without any problems. But when the levels of serotonin become unbalanced, it can cause a variety of conditions, including depression. SSRI antidepressants help to block the reuptake of serotonin so more serotonin remains in the space between the brain's nerve cells. This gives the serotonin a better chance of activating the receptors on the next nerve cell.
SSRI Effects in Children and TeensOnly two SSRIs are approved for use in children or teens: fluvoxamine (Luvox®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®). Fluvoxamine is approved for children age eight and up with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Fluoxetine is approved for children age eight and up for depression, and age seven and up for OCD. SSRIs should be used with caution in children and teens because of the increased risk of suicide (see SSRIs and Suicide).
Off-Label SSRI UsesOn occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend an SSRI for something other than the condition(s) discussed above. This is called an "off-label" use. At this time, off-label uses of SSRIs include the treatment of the following conditions:
- Hot flashes
- Orthostatic hypotension
- Personality disorders
- Tourette syndrome
- Premature ejaculation.