What are MAOI Antidepressants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
When prescribing antidepressants, a doctor may have to adjust the dosage several times before results are seen.
When prescribing antidepressants, a doctor may have to adjust the dosage several times before results are seen.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) antidepressants are medications for the treatment of depression that boost levels of certain neurotransmitters in the body, correcting imbalances in brain chemistry for patients with some kinds of depression. MAOIs, as they are known, can come with some serious side effects and drug interactions, and a doctor usually recommends them after a patient fails to respond to other treatments. While on the drug, patients may need to observe dietary restrictions and must be careful about other things they take, including medications they can buy over the counter.

There are two types of MAOI antidepressants. Class A medications block enzymes involved in the breakdown of neurotransmitters like epinephrine, serotonin, and melatonin. Drugs in class B boost levels of dopamine and phenylethylamine in the body by preventing enzymes from breaking them down. Some drugs can improve levels of both, depending on how they work. Patients can experience side effects like mood swings, weight gain, dizziness, low blood pressure, and gastrointestinal distress.

In addition to increasing concentrations of neurotransmitters in the brain, MAOI antidepressants also boost them throughout the body. Patients may experience a decrease in the severity of depression and can feel more physically active and comfortable. Sometimes, MAOI antidepressants help stabilize a patient so he can go to therapy, and may eventually be able to stop taking the drug after addressing the underlying issue that led to the need for therapy.

One serious risk with MAOI antidepressants is that they cannot be taken with foods that contain tyrosine and tyramine, including fermented foods like beer, cheese, and pickles, along with chocolate and coffee. Patients can experience extremely high blood pressure and may die. In addition, the drugs can interact poorly with other medications, including herbal and prescription preparations people may use to manage depression. A topical patch carries less risk of side effects and doesn't have the same dietary restrictions, but is not an option for all patients.

People on MAOI antidepressants may take forms that require up to two weeks to start working, and sometimes longer. A doctor may need to adjust the dosage a few times to find the right level of medication for the patient. When patients stop, they need to taper the dosage to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and should be aware that the drugs can continue to act in the body for up to two weeks, making it important to continue complying with dietary restrictions to avoid complications.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • When prescribing antidepressants, a doctor may have to adjust the dosage several times before results are seen.
      By: Johan Larson
      When prescribing antidepressants, a doctor may have to adjust the dosage several times before results are seen.