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Mental Health

Zoloft Treatment and Long Term Effects



Is there a limit to the number of years a person can take Zoloft? I`ve read that depression that goes on untreated for years eventually causes chemical changes in the brain. These changes can be compensated for with the use of Zoloft. Any truth?


The exact cause of depression - why one patient becomes depressed while another does not is unknown. However, in recent years, researchers have shown that a number of chemical changes occur in the brains of patients suffering from depression.

Patients who are depressed, typically have reduced activity at nerves affected by serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These three neurotransmitters are chemicals that work to "turn on" or "turn off" impulses in the brain. Current treatment of depression attempts to bring the activity at these neurons back towards normal with medications.

Sertraline (Zoloft) is an antidepressant that belongs to a class of medicines known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These drugs work by indirectly increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Sertraline helps treat depression by increasing the amount of serotonin available for the brain to utilize.

There is currently no clearly defined length of time for patients to be treated with antidepressants. Current treatment guidelines recommend continuing antidepressant therapy for at least 4-9 months. Long-term use of sertraline for depression has been shown to maintain an antidepressant response for up to one year. However, longer maintenance treatment with sertraline is often needed to prevent relapse in patients with chronic depression.

As with any type of antidepressant, patients taking sertraline should be carefully monitored to insure adequate response and minimize side effects. If long term treatment with sertraline is needed your doctor will check the dosage and its effectiveness regularly. It is very important to communicate with your physician at regular visits to discuss your individual therapy.

This response was prepared by Holli Schumacher a PharmD student at the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy

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Response by:

Robert James Goetz, PharmD, DABAT
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati