How Do SSRIs Work?

SSRIs affect a specific chemical within the brain known as serotonin. This 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 that more 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.

When and How Do I Take Them?

Some general considerations for when and how to take SSRI medications include the following:
  • SSRIs are taken by mouth, usually once a day.
  • If your medication makes you drowsy, try taking it at night. If you experience insomnia due to your SSRI, try taking it in the morning.
  • You can take these drugs with or without food. If your SSRI bothers your stomach, try taking it with food.
  • These medications should be taken at the same time each day to maintain an even level in your blood.
  • For SSRIs to work properly, they must be taken as prescribed. Your medication will not work if you stop taking it.

Dosing Information

The dose of SSRI your healthcare provider recommends will vary, depending on a number of factors, including:
  • The specific type of SSRI
  • The medical condition being treated
  • Other medical conditions you may have
  • Other medications you may be currently taking.
As is always the case, do not adjust your dose unless your healthcare provider specifically instructs you to do so.
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