Sertraline

Sounds like 'sir-tra-leen'

Sertraline is used to treat a number of mental health conditions including depression, panic attacks and anxiety. Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Antidepressant
  • Belongs to a group of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Arrow-sertraline®
  • Setrona®

What is sertraline?

Sertraline is a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs are the most frequently prescribed antidepressants.

Sertraline is used to treat a number of mental health conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)panic attacks, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is believed that SSRIs work by increasing the levels of a chemical called serotonin and this can help the symptoms of your condition. You should also notice that you sleep better and feel more relaxed. Read more about antidepressants and SSRIs.

Dose

In Aotearoa New Zealand sertraline is available as tablets (50 mg, 100 mg).

  • The dose of sertraline will be different for different people and depends on the condition being treated.
  • Your doctor will usually start you on a low dose and if needed, will increase your dose slowly. This allows your body to get used to the medicine and reduces side effects.
  • Always take your sertraline exactly as your doctor has told you. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much sertraline to take, how often to take it, and any special instructions. 

How to take sertraline

  • Take sertraline once a day, in the morning OR the evening. Take your dose at the same time each day. 
  • You can take sertraline with or without food. Avoid consuming large amounts of grapefruit or grapefruit juice as it can change the levels of sertraline in your body. Read more about grapefruit and medicines.
  • Missed dose: If you forget to take your dose, take it as soon as you remember. But if it is nearly time for your next dose, just take it at the right time. Do not take double the dose.
  • Keep taking sertraline every day. It may take 4 to 6 weeks before you notice the full benefits of sertraline and you should start to feel better after 1 to 2 weeks. Some people feel worse in the first few weeks before they feel better. Sertraline is often needed for at least a few months and your doctor will tell you how long to take it for.
  • If you think sertraline is not working for you. Do not stop taking it suddenly; speak to your doctor or nurse before stopping. It is usually best to stop taking sertraline very slowly to avoid side effects.

Things to consider while you are taking sertraline

Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you may need to check your blood glucose more often because sertraline can affect the levels of glucose in your blood.

Interactions with other medicines and herbal supplements: Sertraline can interact with some medications (including anticoagulants and NSAIDs), herbal supplements (such as St John's Wort) and recreational drugs, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting sertraline and before starting any new products.

Risk of bleeding
SSRIs can increase your risk of bleeding especially if taken with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as diclofenac and ibuprofen. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take pain relief.

Possible side effects of sertraline

Like all medicines, sertraline can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Vomiting (being sick)
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased sweating
  • Diarrhoea (runny poos)
  • These are quite common when you first start sertraline.
  • If you have nausea, try taking your dose with food.
  • Tell your doctor if they bother you.
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • This is quite common. Try taking your dose in the morning.
  • Feeling sleepy, drowsy, dizzy or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • These are quite common. 
  • Try taking your dose in the evening.
  • Be careful when driving or using tools until you know how this medicine affects you.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. Read more about how alcohol affects medicines.
  • Feeling less or more hungry than usual
  • Changes in weight (increase or decrease)
  • This is common
  • Tell your doctor if it bothers you.
  • Loss of sex drive or libido
  • Problems with keeping an erection or ejaculation
  • These are common at the start of treatment
  • Tell your doctor if they cause you problems or if they are severe.
  • Read more about medicines and sexual problems.
  • Signs of low sodium such as dizziness, confusion, agitation, cramps, unsteadiness, feeling faint or tired.
  • This is common especially in older people, women, people who are also taking diuretics (water tablets) or omeprazole and people with low body weight.
  • Let your doctor know if you get these symptoms.
  • Suicidal feelings or behaviour such as agitation, aggression, self-harm, worsening of low mood.
  • These are rare but serious side effects.
  • They are most likely to happen during the start of treatment or when doses are changed.
  • Contact your doctor immediately.
  • For urgent help contact Healthline 0800 611 116 or Lifeline 0800 543 354 (available 24/7).
  • Signs of serotonin syndrome such as feeling agitated and restless, heavy sweating, shivering, fast heart rate or irregular heartbeat, headache, diarrhoea and rigid or twitching muscles.
  • These are rare but serious side effects
  • You are at increased risk of serotonin syndrome if you just started taking the SSRI, increased the dose or started other medicines that can cause serotonin syndrome.
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring Healthline 0800 611 116.
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product.

Learn more

The following links have more information on sertraline.

Sertraline Patient Information (Māori) NZ Formulary, NZ
Arrow-Sertraline Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet, NZ

References

  1. Sertraline NZ Formulary, 2022
  2. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors NZ Formulary, 2022
  3. The role of medicines in the management of depression in primary care BPAC, NZ, 2021
  4. Sexual dysfunction associated with antidepressants and antipsychotics Medsafe, NZ, 2015

Useful resources for healthcare professionals

Agitation, restlessness and suicidal behaviour with fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline Medsafe, NZ, 2002

Credits: Health Navigator Pharmacists. Reviewed By: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist Last reviewed: 11 May 2022