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What is Paroxetine?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Paroxetine is a prescription oral medication that is given for a variety of different anxiety and depression disorders. It is classified as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), meaning that it works by boosting the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Most people who take paroxetine or its brand name version Paxil® experience significant relief from mood disorder symptoms. There are risks of potentially severe side effects, drug interactions, and dependence, so doctors usually monitor usage closely to minimize the chances of health problems.

Serotonin has been closely associated with the regulation of mood, memory, and sleep, among many other neurological functions. People who suffer from anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress often have noticeably lower levels of available serotonin at any given time in their brains. SSRI drugs temporarily block serotonin receptor sites in the brain, meaning that the chemical can stay activated for longer than usual. In addition, SSRIs promote the release of new serotonin, which increases the overall available quantity in the brain. The result is a calming sensation that reduces the chances of sudden mood swings and behavioral changes.

Paroxetine is available in several different dosages, and a doctor can determine the right amount to prescribe based on the patient's specific disorder and age. Most adults who use the drug to manage depression and anxiety are instructed to take one 10- to 50-milligram capsule daily. Doctors usually prescribe low initial doses to make sure adverse reactions do not occur, and then gradually increase the dose to find an optimal level. To avoid overdose, more than 60 milligrams are only rarely indicated for daily use.

While paroxetine is safer than many other SSRI medications, there is still a significant risk of side effects. Patients may experience feelings of nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth. Some people have trouble sleeping, decreased sex drives, and weight loss with ongoing use. Less commonly, paroxetine can cause tremors, anemia, hallucinations, and shallow breathing. Paroxetine may also interact negatively with other antipsychotic drugs and some heart medicines, so it is important to inform a doctor of current medication use before starting a new prescription.

Overdosing on an SSRI can be devastating. Breathing can become shallow enough to cause fainting, coma, or even death. The risk of permanent damage to major organs, including the brain, lungs, heart, and kidneys, are very high in the event of an overdose. Doctors strongly caution their patients to take the drug exactly how it is prescribed and to avoid sharing it with anyone else to prevent serious complications.

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