Sertraline (Zoloft) belongs to a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It can help manage mental health conditions, such as depression.

Sertraline is sold under the brand name Zoloft, and there are also generic versions. It is available at most pharmacies.

Healthcare professionals can prescribe over 30 medications intended to help with depression and improve a person’s quality of life.

Sertraline is sold under the brand name Zoloft, and there are also generic versions. It is available at most pharmacies.

A packet of sertraline lying on a table. Image credit:, 2012Share on Pinterest
Sertraline increases the amount of serotonin that is available in the brain.
Image credit:, 2012

Sertraline has the same mechanism of action as other SSRIs. It works by increasing the amount of serotonin that is available in the brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that is involved in regulating many elements of a person’s daily life, including mood, sleep, rewards, learning, and memory.

Research has linked depression with low levels of serotonin.

Sertraline increases the amount of serotonin present in the brain, helping to reduce chemical imbalances and improve a person’s overall mood.

Other SSRIs include:

  • escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • citalopram (Celexa)
  • fluvoxamine (Luvox, Luvox CR)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, Symbyax)
  • paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva)
  • vilazodone (Viibryd)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) note that people use sertraline to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

The main use of sertraline is to treat depression, though healthcare providers also prescribe this drug to help treat other conditions, including:

A doctor may prescribe sertraline to treat other issues, such as sexual dysfunction or headaches. Anyone interested in the range of uses should consult a doctor.

Sertraline is available as either an oral tablet or a liquid.

Typically, a person takes a dose in the morning or evening, once a day. People using it to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder may take it every day or only on select days of the month.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, sertraline comes in the following doses:

  • 25 milligram (mg) tablets
  • 50 mg tablets
  • 100 mg tablets
  • 20 milligrams per liter of liquid

A person taking sertraline should follow these general guidelines:

  • Take it at about the same time every day.
  • Take with or without food.
  • Follow all instructions on the prescription packaging and from the doctor.
  • If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember to, but do not double the dose the next day.
  • Take only the amount that the healthcare provider has prescribed.

When using the liquid, dilute it in a drink. According to the National Library of Medicine, a person should mix 4 ounces (half a cup) of medication with one of the following beverages, then drink it immediately:

  • water
  • lemon soda
  • orange juice
  • lemonade
  • ginger ale

However, the right dosage will vary, based on a person’s age and weight.

Typically, a healthcare provider will prescribe a low dose and increase the amount over time, but no more than once per week. It can take several weeks before a person feels any effects of sertraline.

People should not stop taking the drug without speaking to a doctor, even if they are feeling better. This may mean that the drug is working, and missing a dose can result in a return of symptoms.

Side effects can vary from person to person. Talk to a healthcare provider if severe side effects occur or if any side effects do not go away.

Common side effects of sertraline include:

These side effects usually go away after the first week or two. However, sexual dysfunction often does not reduce over time.

The package insert for Zoloft states that it and other antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions in people aged 24 years or younger.

Pay close attention to any new or sudden changes in mood, behavior, thoughts, or feelings, and speak to a healthcare provider about these changes.

Other severe side effects of sertraline may include:

  • serotonin syndrome
  • low sodium levels
  • eye problems such as angle-closure glaucoma
  • increased risk of bleeding, especially when a person is also taking blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

In children, sertraline can cause a loss of weight and appetite. The pediatrician will likely monitor their weight.

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If a person stops taking sertraline abruptly they may experience sleep problems, tinnitus, or irritability.

Whenever possible, a person should come off sertraline gradually. Stopping the dosage suddenly can cause the following side effects:

  • tinnitus
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • tremors
  • confusion
  • sleep problems
  • seizures

Sertraline contains a warning for children, teens, and adults under 24 years of age. It states that sertraline may increase a person’s suicidal thoughts or actions.

Parents and caregivers should make doctors aware of any family history of suicide. It is also important to recognize possible signs of suicidal thoughts or actions.

Adults can also experience suicidal thoughts in the first month or two of taking sertraline, as well as when the doctor increases the dosage.

Look carefully for signs such as:

  • agitation
  • irritability
  • acting without thinking
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • new or worsening anxiety
  • new or worsening depression
  • aggressive behavior
  • severe restlessness
  • frenzied or unusual excitement
  • extreme worry
  • panic attacks
  • thoughts of self-harm
  • planning or trying to commit suicide

In addition, it is important to pay close attention to side effects. If any are severe or do not go away, talk to a doctor.

People using sertraline may test positive on certain drug tests. Before taking a drug test, ask a healthcare professional for advice.

When first taking sertraline, avoid using heavy machinery or driving immediately after a dose, until it becomes clear how the body will react. Some people continue to experience dizziness, tiredness, or other effects that can impair judgment after doses.

Avoid drinking alcohol while taking sertraline.

Certain medications can interact with sertraline. An interaction can cause unwanted side effects or cause medications to be more or less potent than intended.

People should not take any monoamine oxidase inhibitors — another type of antidepressant, commonly called MAOIs — while taking sertraline or up to 2 weeks after stopping.

Taking sertraline along with other drugs that affect serotonin can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. This syndrome involves a range of symptoms, including agitation and loss of muscle coordination.

Some drugs that affect serotonin include:

  • migraine medications called triptans
  • certain other antidepressants
  • some pain medications, such as tramadol
  • an antibiotic called linezolid

People should not take pimozide while taking sertraline. Pimozide is an antipsychotic that helps treat Tourette’s syndrome.

Also, use caution when taking medications such as ibuprofen, warfarin, and aspirin. Sertraline can increase the risk of bleeding associated with these medications.

Sertraline is available in brand and generic forms. Most insurance plans and Medicare cover the cost of the generic version of sertraline. In this case, a person will pay only the associated medication cost of their insurance plan.

People who do not have insurance may be able to use coupons to reduce the cost of sertraline.

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A person should discuss their medication history with their doctor before starting sertraline.

Doctors generally consider sertraline to be the preferred medication for the treatment of depression.

There is some evidence that sertraline is preferable to other antidepressants. For example, a medical review determined, based on almost 60 studies, that sertraline was more effective than other antidepressants. However, the researchers acknowledged that the majority of the studies were of low quality.

Each individual is different, and what works well for one person may not for another. Before taking sertraline, a person should discuss their medication history and family history with the doctor, who should describe the potential side effects of the drug. For some people, another option is more appropriate.

Sertraline is an antidepressant that can help treat depression and other mood disorders.

Some people find that taking sertraline helps them manage their symptoms. Others can experience side effects that are not manageable. If this happens, see a healthcare provider who can recommend alternatives, before stopping the medication.

Like other drugs, sertraline can cause mild to severe side effects. As with any treatment, discuss the benefits and potential side effects with a doctor before taking the medication.