For most people with depression, a definitive depression diagnosis from a psychiatrist often means accepting that you will be on antidepressants for most of your life. For many, this means delaying the first prescription for as long as possible, but after some time, the use of the antidepressants is inevitable. Unfortunately, from the time you accept medication, even as your symptoms lift, another heavy cloud hovers – the fact that the medications you now depend on come with adverse side effects. And, you might never get over the effects of the medication even though they make you feel better and brighter now.
While stopping your medication might not be your best option, understanding the potential long-term effects of the medication is essential.
Today, we look at the effects of the long-term use of Cymbalta.
What is Cymbalta?
Cymbalta refers to the brand-name for duloxetine, the antidepressant that’s prescribed for the treatment of the symptoms of depression as well as anxiety, fibromyalgia, bone pain, and even diabetic nerve damage.
It belongs in the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) class of medications and works by increasing the circulating levels of serotonin and even norepinephrine which are effective in mood regulation and in blocking the pain signals through the brain. The SNRIs cause neurotransmitter dysregulation. They change the normal function of neurotransmitters.
It was approved for human use by the FDA in 2004 under the brand name Cymbalta, and in 2013, the generic version of the drug, duloxetine was approved. In a 2012 study that was published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, it was reported that Cymbalta was effective in easing osteoarthritis pain. At the same time, it was reported that the drug could cause fewer side effects in comparison with the traditional NSAIDs. The researchers, in their report, concluded that doctors might want to incorporate antidepressants into the treatment regimen for patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
Unfortunately, the effects of the drug were not well documented because the prolonged use of Cymbalta seems to carry extreme effects, like many other antidepressants on the market.
Effects of Cymbalta
In the short term, patients starting their Cymbalta treatment or the ones increasing their dose reported a significantly higher risk of developing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. This risk is higher for patients under 24 years, and so, the drug requires close monitoring. This effect of the drug is the reason why the drug isn’t prescribed to anyone under 18 years. Besides the suicidal thoughts, patients could also experience panic attacks, irritability, abnormal excitement, extreme worry restlessness, and aggression.
In the long term, some of the expected side effects include:
- Weight gain: In a 2011 study on the long-term use of Cymbalta, it was reported that patients taking Cymbalta for a long time recorded weight increase of up to 16 percent above their initial weight.
- Worsening Glaucoma: Patients suffering from the uncontrolled and narrow-angle glaucoma taking Cymbalta reported worsening of the glaucoma symptoms
- Increased risk of liver damage: The long-term use of this antidepressant, especially in persons who abuse alcohol is an increased risk of liver damage because alcohol exacerbates the effects of the drug.
- High blood pressure: prolonged use of the drug causes high-blood pressure and lightheadedness, especially if you stand up too fast after lying down or sitting.
- Loss of libido: this is reported in as high as 72 percent of persons using antidepressants with 65 percent of the patients’ unable reach orgasm.
- Emotional numbness, caring less about others, and not feeling like yourself.
- More suicidal thoughts
- Addiction or inability to stop the medication because of the extreme withdrawal effects
Withdrawal Effects of Cymbalta
Besides making you feel bad and sick when taking this drug, trying to stop it has worse effects too. The effects of withdrawing from this drug have led to the Cymbalta discontinuation syndrome which explains the severity of the drug’s withdrawal symptoms. Because of the discontinuation syndrome, patients are discouraged from going cold turkey on the antidepressant and any other antidepressant prescribed.
Much of the anecdotal evidence recorded documents the effects of withdrawal as distress, self-harm, and other life-threatening effects. Patients with the discontinuation syndrome note that the experience is horrific with some describing it as “Going through Hell” or it being a “Nightmare.”
Common discontinuation syndrome symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms
- Sensory disturbances
- Loss of balance
While the easiest ways of getting through or avoiding the discontinuation syndrome would be as simple as reducing a patient’s dosage gradually, Cymbalta’s dosage is a problem. This drug is available in three doses of 20mg, 30mg, and 60mg; and it only comes in capsule form making it impossible actually to titrate down the dosage. At the same time, the directions for administration of the drug warn against crushing, chewing or opening the capsule, or even sprinkling the contents in food or mixing with a liquid.
So, with no way out, you should consider speaking to your doctor about a safer discontinuation plan. Often, the plan involves switching to another antidepressant which you can taper off of with ease. But, if you would like to learn about alternatives, see our anti-depressant withdrawal stack.
Also, before you take this antidepressant, know what you are getting yourself into.
It is now apparent that the absence of data on the long-term use of antidepressants is to blame for the high number of patients now struggling with health issues arising from being on antidepressants for too long. According to data analyzed by The Times, up to 58 percent of older white females have made antidepressants their long-term solution with the number of long-term users piling annually.
Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the best way to use antidepressants among doctors with some of the drug manufacturers denying the severe effects of the drugs in the long term. So, while using Cymbalta or any other antidepressant, you should consult on the best ways of using the drug before you are dependent on that capsule.