It’s Official: I’m on Abilify and Prozac

A cursory search on Google for Abilify + Prozac didn’t yield too many helpful results. I suppose it’s not a common drug combination. So far, I haven’t had any real side effects. I take Prozac in the morning and Abilify at night. I’ve also started taking my vitamins again after shirking them for quite a while: Fish Oil with Omega-3s, Iron (for slight anemia), Vitamin B-Complex with Vitamin C, and a women’s multivitamin.

I am a little nervous about taking an SSRI again because the last SSRI I was on (Effexor/venlafaxine) produced some nasty side effects (mania, night sweats, vivid dreams, brain shivers) along with the one I liked (significant weight loss). When I last blogged about Prozac, my only side effect was somnolence—a side effect I don’t appear to be experiencing this time around.

Are you on a drug combination? If so, what and is it working for you? If you used to be on a drug combination, what was it and did it help?

Effexor (venlafaxine) Withdrawal

I’ve compiled a list of my posts on Effexor (venlafaxine) withdrawal in chronological order. Do NOT take any of the information from these posts as official medical advice. This is based on my own experience; experiences may vary.

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

Chemical imbalances do not exist; dying brain cells do

Researchers have never been fully confident in the chemical imbalance theory, yet the media continue to purport it as fact. Dr. John Grohol over at PsychCentral recently wrote:

We’ve all heard the theory — a chemical imbalance in your brain causes depression.

Although researchers have known for years this not to be the case, some drug companies continue to repeat this simplistic and misleading claim in their marketing and advertising materials. Why the FTC or some other federal agency doesn’t crack down on this intentional misleading information is beyond me. Most researchers now believe depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

How did we come to this conclusion? Through years of additional research. But now some are jumping on the next brain bandwagon of belief — that depression is caused by a problem in the brain neuronal network.

Grohol cites Jonah Lehrer's article in the Boston Globe in which he posits that researchers now think depression comes from "brain cells shrinking and dying." Lehrer writes:

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Wyeth Pushing Pristiq Hard

PristiqThe Wall Street Journal reports that Wyeth, desperate to make money off of its Effexor XR-knockoff, Pristiq, says it will slash the antidepressant at a 20% discount compared to Effexor’s price. The price slash, CNN money reports, is a result of less-than-impressive clinical trial data on Pristiq’s “safety and effectiveness.”

Wyeth SVP Joe Mahady told analysts that Pristiq will sell for a flat $3.41 per tablet for both mid- and high-dose, Dow Jones Newswires’ Peter Loftus reports.

Wyeth, apparently, has done this in the past. Back when it was known as American Home Products, the company slashed its price on Protonix, its heartburn drug, to compete with AstraZeneca’s Prilosec. The drug generated $1.9 billion in profits for Wyeth last year. CNN Money reports that Teva Pharmaceuticals and Sun Pharmaceuticals began selling the generic version of the drug and handily cut into Wyeth’s profits: the company reported a 4.6% decline in profit and a 66% drop in sales for the drug for the first-quarter. What will happen with Pristiq remains to be seen. I’m not sure that doctors in 2010 will want to dole out prescriptions for Pristiq when they can save patients—and insurance companies—money by prescribing what will then be known as venlafaxine. WSJ also notes:

A month’s supply of sertraline (Pfizer’s old hit Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Lilly’s Prozac) goes for 50 cents a day at drugstore.com.

$3.41 or $0.50 per tablet. It wouldn’t surprise me if some insurance companies choose to exclude Pristiq from its list of covered drugs. Regardless, Wyeth expects sales of the drug to exceed $1 billion in its first year.

The drug will hit the shelves in May.

The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

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Women & Antidepressants

Pink, a magazine for business women, has an article in its April/May 2007 issue titled, “The Magic Pill.” (The only way to read this article is to get a hard-copy of the mag.) No, this isn’t about birth control. The subhead: “Antidepressants are now used for everything from migraines to menopause. But are women getting an overdose?”

Good question. The article, well-written by Mary Anne Dunkin, does a nice job of trying to present both sides of the coin. One subject, Pam Gilchrist, takes tricyclic antidepressants to relieve her fibromyalgia symptoms. “One of the [antidepressants] that allows her to keep going” is Effexor (venlafaxine). God forbid the woman should ever have to come off of that one. (It works well when you’re on it, but withdrawal is sheer hell.)

The other subject mentioned in the article, Billie Wickstrom, suffers from bipolar disorder, but had a therapist who diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The psychiatrist she was referred to promptly put her on Anafranil (clomipramine). We all know what antidepressants tend to do for those with bipolar disorder. Wickstrom blanked out at an interview that she says she normally would have aced. In another incident, she veered off-course after leaving town and spent the night on the side of the road with her daughter. “Search parties in three states” were out looking for them.

“Three years and three hospitalizations later, Wickstrom is finally free of clomipramine and has a job she loves as PR director for a $300 million family of companies. She says she’s happy, she’s focused and she feels great – consistently.”

Dunkin’s article uncovers a large, problematic use – by my standards, anyway – of off-label usage by doctors.

“Gilchrist… is one of the estimated one in 10 American women taking some type of antidepressant medication. And a considerable percentage of these prescriptions, particularly those for tricyclic antidepressants, are not used to treat depression at all.

A growing number of doctors today prescribe antidepressants for a wide range of problems, including anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes and smoking cessation.”

I’m sure the list goes on, but magazines have but oh so much space.

Melissa McNeilDr. Melissa McNeil at the University of Pittsburgh points out three things:

  1. Since depression is a prevalent (see common) condition, doctors are better detecting it.
  2. Since antidepressants have proven their safety and efficacy, primary care physicians have no reservations prescribing them.
  3. Clinical studies are finding that antidepressants can aid a number of medical issues apart from depression.

My take on McNeil’s points (I’ll try to keep them brief):

  • Depression is way too common to be abnormal. If a woman has a rough patch in life for 2 weeks or more, she’s got depression. As for doctors being better at detecting depression? Studies consistently show that doctors are great at overlooking depression in men.
  • Antidepressants haven’t proven jack squat. Placebos have proven more safety and efficacy than antidepressants. PCPs have no reservations prescribing them because they only know about the positive facts that pharma reps tell them instead of researching the potential side effects.
  • Clinical studies aren’t finding all those things out. Seroquel has FDA-approval to treat psychiatric symptoms (psychosis, for one). As far as I know, Seroquel is not FDA-approved to treat insomnia or crappy sleeping patterns. There are no specific clinical studies to see if Seroquel can treat insomnia. Seroquel is prescribed to treat insomnia/restless sleep because doctors have found that a major side effect of the drug is somnolence. If this is the case, Effexor should be prescribed for weight loss. It’d be the new Fen-Phen.

Dunkin cites two widely used antidepressants for nonpsychiatric uses: Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Prozac (fluoxetine). Zyban, used for smoking cessation is, well, bupropion. Sarafem, used to treat PMS symptoms is – you guessed it – fluoxetine.

Viktor BouquetteDr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Group thankfully takes a more cautious approach:

“The widespread use – mostly misuse – by physicians of antidepressants to treat women for far-ranging symptoms from insomnia, chronic fatigue and irritability to PMS and menopause is merely another unfortunate example of the pharmaceutical industry’s tremendous influence on the practice of modern medicine. Take enough antidepressants and you may likely still have the symptoms, but you won’t care.”

Kudos to Dunkin for landing that quote. Since Bouquette is part of an alternative medicine group, he’s got a good motive for slamming pharma companies.

McNeil goes on to sound anti-d happy in the article. Not that it matters, but she is also a section editor for the Journal of Women’s Health, which has several corporate associates representing pharmaceutical companies. (She is also the only source in the article who sings anti-d’s praises.) Dunkin tracked down Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical professor at the Brown University Department of Psychiatry, who advocated patient responsibility.

“Just because antidepressants work for depression does not mean they should always be used. People need to learn skills to manage their depressive symptoms instead of depending on medication. When you take medicine for every complaint, you lose the opportunity to learn how to regulate your mood on your own.”

Oh, for more doctors like Haltzman and Bouquette.

UPDATE: Uh, alleged fraud suit pending against Progressive Medical Group. Bouquette is now part of Progressive Medical Centers of America.

A final update on my Effexor withdrawal

I failed to update on my Effexor withdrawal because, well, you know why.

After three to four weeks, my Effexor symptoms – well, most of them anyway – have dissipated. The brain shocks were gone by early February. The vertigo as of now has completely resolved. (Although I’ll probably still have occasional instances where it may linger.) The dizziness also has lightened up. I can confidently say that I’m pretty much back-to-normal. All cases will differ, but for me, it took about five weeks total to have a complete recovery.

But don’t do headstands after Effexor – whoo, boy, can that throw you for a loop.

Also – it took about four weeks to get the drowsy effect of fluoxetine (Prozac) out of my system. January was an extremely rough month for meds, let me tell you.

UPDATE: Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

I previously wrote about how fluoxetine helped smooth out my withdrawal from venlafaxine. I’m doing much better and am able to function.

What’s the update then?

I’ve got lingering side effects from either the fluoxetine or the venlafaxine – I’m not sure which.

somnolenceThe lingering somnolence/grogginess for about a week or so can definitely be attributed to fluoxetine. I’d never struggled with somnolence on any med except when I first started Effexor in the hospital. Grogginess has never been a problem except for my antihistamine medication hydroxyzine.

The brain shocks still linger. They’re not as bad nor are they frequent. I can walk around, turn, spin – no problem. But if I’m in the middle of walking  down the street and turn my neck slightly to see if a car is coming before I cross – *zap!* – brain shock. That’s all I get for the rest of my 15-minute walk. I’d say that’s pretty good (considering what I’d previously endured).

Dizziness, vertigo, and light-headedness: those are much more frequent. As I sit here and type, my entire field of vision can swirl clockwise and return to normal via counter-clockwise. It happens for about 3 seconds or less, but it’s long enough for me to notice and go, “Whoa.” (Who needs recreational drugs when you’ve got withdrawals from psych meds?) These side effects are not as frequent as they used to be with the direct venlafaxine withdrawal, but they can occur about 30 times or less throughout a 17-hour day (7 a.m.-12 a.m.) for me.

I’ve read that people can use fluoxetine to offset venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms with relatively uneventful side effects. Somnolence was not a fun side effect. Just a warning.

My semi-daily fluoxetine update

Okay, the brain shivers are gone. Completely. I still get some vertigo and light-headedness but it happens maybe three times a day max. So fluoxetine has eliminated some of the effects.

I wasn’t prepared for fluoxetine’s side effects, however. And boy, it’s got some kickers.

Since I was on an incredibly low dosage (10-20 mg), there weren’t many side effects.
But boy, is somnolence kicking my butt.

After becoming used to waking up before I’m supposed to, now I’m having the opposite problem: I can’t get up at all. I need my husband to drag me out of bed. And since he’s so nice, he doesn’t do that either.

Argh. As of Friday night, I’ve stopped taking fluoxetine so I’m praying to God that these side effects will go away. I hate somnolence. I’ve had that issue with hydroxyzine (Atarax) and it’s the same reason that I refuse to take quetiapine (Seroquel). I’m getting sleepy right now. If I can get up before noon, I’ll be so freakin’ lucky.

The metabolism aspect of fluoxetine doesn’t make me jump for joy.  According to my favorite “reputable” site, wikipedia:

“Fluoxetine is metabolised to norfluoxetine, and it may take up to 1 to 2 months for the active drug substance to disappear from the body.”

I don’t know if I can tolerate somnolence for 1-2 months. I hope the side effects from this is out of my system by the end of the week.

Come to think of it: somnolence vs. brain shivers?

I’ll take somnolence ANY DAY.

Fluoxetine helps offset Effexor withdrawal

ProzacGreat news: I upped my dosage took 20 mg of fluoxetine last night and the Effexor brain shivers have completely worn off. My cognitive functioning has completely returned and I’m no longer afraid of passing out when walking or turning to talk to someone. I’ll probably take another 20 mg tonight and call it a day for fluoxetine. (Thank you Dr. Ivan!)

So it’s true: If you’re experiencing Effexor withdrawal, ask your doctor or psychiatrist (whomever you’re seeing for mental illness) for 20 mg of fluoxetine and take it for about 2-3 days.  This may not work for everyone (especially those who may be treatment-resistant) but I’m confident it can work for the vast majority of sufferers. I’ll tell you later if I have a suicidal relapse; I’ll be on the alert for the next two weeks. That’s how long it took me to have a relapse when I quit Lexapro cold turkey.

Many thanks to Furious Seasons for the shout-out.

UPDATE: An old post from a blog detailing an Effexor withdrawal experience. I was on Effexor for about 3 months and the withdrawal effects were essentially the same.

Patient Responsibility

“An article on brain shocks from about.com linked to a statement at socialaudit.org.uk on venlafaxine withdrawal. It seems that when coming off of venlafaxine, it is best to use fluoxetine (Prozac) in conjunction with it. Somehow, Prozac’s effects can minimize or negate the side effects of Effexor allowing for an uneventful withdrawal. I’m seeing my psychiatrist later today and I might bring up the idea with him. He might think one of two things: a) I’m crazy (pun not intended) or b) I don’t know what I’m talking about. My guess is he’ll choose the latter of the two.

Unlike most patients, I know more about meds than ‘the average bear.’”

UPDATE: I asked my doctor about going on fluoxetine to offset the effect of venlafaxine withdrawal. He looked up, somewhat shocked, and said, “Yeah.” So then I pushed and said, “Well, I’d like 10 mg then.” lol. He wrote out a prescription for 10 mg of Prozac in addition to bumping me up from 150 mg to 200 mg of Lamictal. I took the fluoxetine (Prozac is now a generic drug) last night and it has offset the intensity of the brain shocks. I experience them but they are much more mild compared to yesterday when they were moderate to severe. Yesterday, I was barely able to drive; today, I drove nearly an hour to work on a somewhat urban road with good reflexes and almost normal cognitive functioning. I can only hope that the Prozac continues to aid my withdrawal issues. And I was happy to wake up this morning without wondering why I dreamt that I was in a department store with parrots singing Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up” and swinging like moneys instead of flying.

You get the idea: Effexor causes some strange dreams.

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Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

Work has got me busy, folks, so posts may drop significantly in the next coming days/months. Possibly through April or May. (I’ll probably have one of those work days when I end up doing more blogging than working. It happens every now and then.) But don’t be surprised if Saturday quotes, Wednesday puppies, and Sunday stats are what pops up each week. I’ve got many of those backlogged through April. I’ll try to backlog some other posts on bipolar disorder and depression for the coming weeks and quickly blog on anything that’s timely.

electric shockIn the meantime, I had to take a sick day today. It’s my third day off of the Effexor and I’m having some weird side effects (see Case 1: Standard Dose under the link). Whenever I turn or move too quickly (consider your “natural” body turn), I “kind of” see stars and the whole world slightly spins beyond my field of vision for about 3 seconds before coming back into focus. After doing some light research on the side effects of venlafaxine (Effexor’s generic name), I’ve found out that side effects can incude vertigo, dizziness, light-headedness (associated with dizziness), and something called “brain shivers,” which are a form of electric shock sensations. You know that feeling when you get an electric shock from somebody? Yeah, imagine feeling that throughout your whole body. Precisely; not a good feeling. Nancy Schimelpfening, blogger for depression.about.com, found a newsgroup posting on the brain shiver effect, mainly associated with venlafaxine:

It happens to me if I turn my head quickly, or if I stop suddenly, or in general with sudden motion. They’re worse if I’m nervous.

i’ve seen them described as feeling as though your brain keeps going when you turn your head. that doesn’t seem quite adequate to me. it’s more like this:

you turn your head (or your whole body — this happens to me if i whirl around too quickly as i’m taking the stairs. what. doesn’t everyone whirl on the stairs…?), but your brain *stays put* for a micro second, then tries to catch up but only in a stuttering, stopstart motion, accompanied by a staccato ‘zzt zzt zzt’ with each stop. the ‘zzt’ you can feel in your head, an electric sort of vertigo, and it often reverberates in your hands and fingers. some folks feel it in their toes; i haven’t yet.

sometimes your brain overshoots and comes strobing back, then overshoots again.. this all unfolds in just a second or two.

these days i endeavor to go around corners all smooth slow and steadylike. helps to reduce the number of brain shivers per day

Yeah, that’s me. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never felt it. I got this feeling after not taking Paxil for three days too. The effects eventually wore off, but it was such a weird feeling.

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