First approved in 1993 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Effexor was marketed by Wyeth to treat depression, anxiety, and certain types of panic disorders. It was the first antidepressant belonging to a drug class called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). By 2007, Effexor became the sixth most popularly-prescribed drug of its class. It reached over 17 million prescriptions in the United States.
SNRIs regulate serotonin and norepinephrine reabsorption. It is believed that adequate serotonin levels prevent depression and anxiety. In addition, increased norepinephrine is believed to aid the reduction of pain associated with neuropathy. Effexor was developed to help block reabsorption of both hormones.
What Is Effexor?
Effexor (venlafaxine hydrochloride) is an antidepressant drug prescribed to patients to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorders and social phobia. As an SNRI, it grew in popularity since its approval by the FDA in 1993. It is now becoming more versatile. Physicians are becoming more likely to prescribe Effexor to treat other symptoms and conditions as well. Since Effexor works by regulating serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, it can effectively help treat pain caused by severe migraines and diabetic neuropathy.
Common Effexor Side Effects
As with any medication, patients may experience some side effects when taking Effexor. Some are very common while others can become more serious.
A list of common Effexor side effects may include:
- Dry mouth
- Increased perspiration
- Blurred vision
- Abnormal dreams
- Appetite and weight fluctuation
- Decreased libido, sex drive, and difficulty achieving orgasm
Although this list is not inclusive, they tend to be the most common side effects associated with Effexor. Individuals are advised to consult immediate medical attention by a physician if these symptoms worsen.
Severe Effexor Side Effects
In addition to common side effects, there is a possibility that Effexor patients may experience more severe side effects while taking Effexor. These conditions call for immediate medical or emergency attention.
Severe Effexor side effects can include:
- Trouble breathing or tightness in the chest
- Memory or concentration difficulties
- Fever, nausea, or vomiting
- Increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Hostility, agitation, aggression
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Sudden changes in moods or behavior
- Increased anxiety or panic attacks
Effexor can be associated with any of the above symptoms, though the list is not inclusive. It is strongly recommended an individual call 911 should any symptoms escalate when taking Effexor. Doctors also warn against taking any other prescription that can lead to a serotonin overdose. Too much serotonin in the brain can make an individual more susceptible to serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome must be recognized and treated immediately. Symptoms include sudden spikes in blood pressure or heart rate, heightened body temperature, and hyperthermia. If these symptoms arise, patients are advised to seek immediate emergency attention as this condition can be fatal.
It is also recommended that patients consult a physician before ceasing Effexor use. Sudden stoppage can lead to discontinuation syndrome. This condition is characterized by loss of coordination, stomach cramps, severe headaches/migraines, extreme sleepiness and fatigue. Many physicians suggest gradual discontinuation to avoid such symptoms.
Another serious risk to be considered is for pregnant or nursing mothers. Effexor carries the potential risk of birth defects in some pregnancies. After birth, nursing infants may still develop complications related to Effexor use from their mothers. Newborns may develop symptoms such as:
- Irregular appetite or difficulties feeding
- Heart defects
- Growth or development defects
- Jitteriness or shaking
- Consistent or abnormally frequent crying
Because Effexor carries the potential risk of many side effects, there have been several lawsuits filed against the manufacturer, Pfizer. Pfizer acquired Wyeth in 2009. A majority of claims involve mothers whose newborns have experienced birth defects. They believe the defects to be associated with the use of Effexor while pregnant or nursing. Others involve mental and physical complications developed by the patients themselves as a result of taking Effexor.
An individual may be entitled to compensation if Effexor is in direct correlation to health problems developed from taking the drug. Those women who took Effexor while pregnant may also have a claim if their child has developed birth defects or suffered developmental complications after birth. These individuals are encouraged to seek the consultation of an experienced attorney to determine their rights to a claim.