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How Effective Is Bupropion for Depression?

By Lynelle Harmon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bupropion is a prescription medication that belongs to the antidepressant class. Research has shown that prescribing buproprion for depression is as effective as other treatment methods while carrying fewer side effects. The overall effectiveness will depend upon the patient following dosage instructions, presentation of side effects, and the body chemistry of the patient.

A 2004 research summary from Harvard Medical School stated that prescribing bupropion for depression is typically as effective as prescribing selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), despite their differing mechanisms of action. Bupropion’s mechanism of action affects the re-uptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. SSRIs only target serotonin and leave the other neurotransmitters alone. The summary also found bupropion’s efficacy to be nearly equal to other medications in the antidepressant class.

Dosage of bupropion for depression is done orally via tablet in either a sustained or extended release form that may have to be taken multiple times per day. It can take up to a month for the drug to take effect, so patients shouldn’t cease dosage during that time due to drug inaction. The doctor may need to adjust the dosage over the course of a few months, beginning at a low dose and building higher until the correct chemical balance is found for the patient.

The efficacy of bupropion for depression depends upon the patient following prescription instructions precisely. Doses should be taken on time, following a set schedule convenient for the patient. A single missed dose should be caught up as soon as possible. Cessation of the drug treatment should not be done without a doctor’s permission and assistance.

Taking bupropion under the care of a physician is essential, as there are drug interactions that may occur. Patients are typically not allowed to start bupropion for depression if an MAO inhibitor had been taken within the prior two weeks. Other potential drug interactions include insulin, oral steroids, and other antidepressants. In addition, patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a physician before taking this medication.

Antidepressants can carry mild to severe side effects that may be serious enough for the doctor to adjust the dosage or switch the patient to another medication. Common mild side effects of bupropion for depression include headache, weight loss, and nausea. Serious side effects may involve hallucinations, swelling, or irregular heartbeat. Sleep disturbance, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction side effects are less common with bupropion than other antidepressant medications.

Bupropion for depression is approved for short- and long-term treatments, but the length of the dose, and its overall efficacy, will vary highly from person to person. Patients must work closely with a doctor to determine if this medication is the right fit for treatment. An alternative treatment should be carefully considered if bupropion proves ineffective for the patient.

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