Antidepressant medications are important for people who struggle with depression. They can literally be life savers. These aren’t perfect medications, though. Some types don’t work for everyone and others may work, but cause terrible side effects. Effexor is one of these medications, and while for some patients it may be a great option, for others the side effects have been devastating.
Effexor is a type of antidepressant made by Wyeth, and then Pfizer, with the generic name venlafaxine. Since it was first approved in 1993, the patent has run out and generic forms are available. In addition to some common, not too serious side effects, venlafaxine has been found to cause serious problems like birth defects, suicide, and others. These terrible Effexor side effects have led to numerous lawsuits because of the devastation they have caused.
Effexor and Antidepressants
Venlafaxine belongs to a class of antidepressants called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs. Effexor and other SNRIs work to treat depression by increasing the amount of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. These are two neurotransmitters, or brain signaling chemicals, that are implicated in mood. By boosting their levels in the brain, many people find relief from depression.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Effexor for treating major depression in 1993. Since then it has also been found to be effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Although not approved for them, doctors may prescribe SNRIs like Effexor to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a condition called cataplexy, which causes muscle weakness.
Common Effexor Side Effects
The effectiveness of drugs like venlafaxine is not always seen quickly. Most people have to take antidepressants for weeks before they take effect. In the meantime, they can cause some side effects. Most of these are not serious and can be tolerated until the medication really starts to relieve depression or anxiety symptoms.
The most common side effects of Effexor are diarrhea or constipation, stomach pains, vomiting, nausea, heart burn, and gas. Less common are flu-like symptoms, hot flashes, nightmares, weakness, drowsiness, muscle twitches, headaches, loss of appetite and weight loss, dry mouth, frequent urination, and sexual dysfunction.
The Risk of Suicide
Many people find relief with Effexor and either experience few or no side effects or can live with a few mild side effects. For other people, though, there are more serious risks associated with this medication, including certain populations. Young people, children, teens, and adults under 25, is one of these specific populations. They are at an increased risk for suicidal thinking and taking suicidal or self-harm actions while using Effexor.
This side effect isn’t common, and it isn’t known why it is a risk only for younger patients, but the potential outcomes are obviously serious. Young people may be prescribed Effexor in spite of this risk because a doctor believes it is the best option. This may be because other medications or treatments failed to help. Any young person taking Effexor must be carefully monitored for any signs of suicidal thinking or clues that he or she may commit suicide.
Plaintiffs in some of the lawsuits against Wyeth and Pfizer over Effexor accuse the companies of failing to warn them adequately of the risk of suicide. They lost loved ones to the drug and believe the drug makers are negligent. Aside from birth defects, this is the most common reason to file a lawsuit over Effexor side effects.
One of the more recent discoveries about the side effects of Effexor is that it can increase the risk of a woman having a miscarriage or giving birth to a baby with congenital defects. Other antidepressants carry these risks as well, and for miscarriage the risk has been found to be increased by as much as 68 percent when compared to women not taking an antidepressant when pregnant.
Evidence for birth defects has come from individual cases reported to the FDA’s adverse event reporting system, but also from research. One study found that mothers-to-be taking Effexor were more likely to have children born with cleft palate, heart defects, and other birth defects. Another risk is that a child will be born with a life-threatening condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.
Many lawsuits have been filed over birth defects, miscarriages, and other conditions related to pregnancy and newborns. Women feel that they were never warned about just how serious the repercussions of taking an antidepressant while pregnant could be.
Another side effect of Effexor, which is not very common is called serotonin syndrome. This occurs when the brain is flooded with too much serotonin and it can lead to high blood pressure, hallucinations, mania, sweating, weakness, overheating, and eventually a coma, respiratory failure, and death. The condition can be reversed, but if not recognized and treated, it will be fatal. The risk of having serotonin syndrome is greater when someone is taking more than one antidepressant at a time. The warning about the risk did not become official until the FDA issued a statement about serotonin syndrome in 2006.
Effexor can also cause some terrible side effects in people who try to stop using it too suddenly. This happens with most antidepressants and patients are warned to never stop using the medications without a doctor’s direction. Withdrawal from Effexor can cause serious symptoms including mood swings, irritability, nightmares, insomnia, numb or burning sensation in the limbs, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and excessive sweating. The withdrawal caused by Effexor is similar to what people addicted to drugs experience, and yet antidepressants are not considered to be addictive or habit-forming.
If you have experienced any of the more serious and harmful side effects of Effexor, you may consider filing a lawsuit. The medical expenses and pain and suffering associated with these side effects may warrant compensation. To help you decide if your case is strong enough to make, contact a lawyer for advice and tips on what to do next.