Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, with 21 million U.S. adults experiencing a major depressive episode in 2020.
If you struggle with or have been diagnosed with major depression, there’s a good chance that you’ve been prescribed Cymbalta®.
Many antidepressants are connected to weight change, and Cymbalta is no exception. Some people have gained weight while taking Cymbalta while others have seen a decrease in appetite and weight.
Is there a link between Cymbalta and weight loss? Does Cymbalta cause weight gain?
Below we take a look at what Cymbalta is and why your healthcare provider or mental health provider may prescribe this treatment.
We also explain any connection between Cymbalta and weight loss, and how to maintain a stable, healthy weight while taking Cymbalta or other antidepressants.
Cymbalta, the brand name for duloxetine, is a long-term treatment typically prescribed for depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It’s a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which is a type of antidepressant typically prescribed to those whose depression was not successfully treated by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Cymbalta works primarily to increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. This increase can have positive effects on mood and pain.
In addition to depression and anxiety, duloxetine is also approved by the FDA to treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage from diabetes), fibromyalgia and long-term musculoskeletal pain. The use of Cymbalta in treating nerve pain and nerve damage disorders makes it different from many other antidepressants.
In a review of 12 studies, Cymbalta was shown to be effective in treating chronic pain conditions in a majority of patients, including reducing the severity of the pain and improving how well patients were able to function physically.
Having chronic pain could cause depression or worsen existing depression, leading to a cycle of worse pain and emotional health according to studies. This can make Cymbalta doubly effective for some people.
The most common side effects of Cymbalta include:
Sleepiness or tiredness
Loss of appetite
Our complete guide on the side effects of Cymbalta goes into more detail on all the side effects and risks of using Cymbalta for a depressive disorder.
If you experience abnormal or serious adverse effects with duloxetine, it’s important you contact your healthcare provider for proper medical advice right away.
Within the first week or two of taking Cymbalta, you may see improvements in sleep, energy or appetite. These physical improvements can be early signals that the medication is working.
A lack of interest in activities or a depressed mood may take longer to improve, anywhere from six to eight weeks.
Cymbalta may negatively interact with other drugs, including some blood thinners and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as ibuprofen —so tell your healthcare provider about all of the medications you currently take, whether they’re prescription, over-the-counter or even nutritional supplements.
Although rare, there is an increased risk of serotonin syndrome when duloxetine is used with other medications that increase serotonin, such as other antidepressants, certain migraine medications and amphetamines.
As with similar drugs, stopping Cymbalta comes with a risk of experiencing short-term withdrawal symptoms. If you want to stop taking Cymbalta, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider and taper off your dosage slowly.
Cymbalta is one treatment option for a depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, with a decreased appetite as one possible side effect. Let’s look further into what effects on weight Cymbalta has.
In general, antidepressants are more commonly associated with weight gain than they are with weight loss. Weight gain is a possible side effect of some antidepressant medications, especially newer medications, as a small clinical study showed. Specifically, research has suggested that tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) may be more likely to cause weight gain.
In addition, a large-scale cohort study found that the risk of weight gain was slightly higher in people who used antidepressants than in their peers.
Although antidepressants can be effective depression treatments for many people, gaining weight while taking antidepressant treatments could lead to a further depressed mood and impact a person’s recovery process.
Some antidepressants that have been reported to increase weight are:
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Atypical antidepressants (olanzapine, quetiapine)
However, limited research on patients using antidepressants (but not including Cymbalta itself) doesn’t support that SNRIs always cause weight gain.
Additional results from a study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment showed that Cymbalta tends to cause weight loss and decreased appetite.
Decreased appetite is a common side effect of Cymbalta, which is one thing that could contribute to weight loss.
In a review of 10 studies, it was found that most people experienced weight loss after short-term treatment with Cymbalta. However, the study also found that long-term use may result in modest weight gain. Using Cymbalta for over a year resulted in an average weight gain of two pounds.
A small 2010 study looking at the effects on weight from 17 participants taking 30mg and seven participants taking a 60mg dosage of Cymbalta found that all 24 participants initially experienced a reduction in body weight. Even though participants lost weight, they only lost around four pounds during the study.
After eight weeks of treatment though, the seven participants who were given a higher dosage of Cymbalta at 60mg gradually regained a small amount of weight at just over half a pound in the final week.
So to answer the question of whether Cymbalta causes weight gain: in some cases of long-term use, it may cause a slight amount of weight gain.
However, weight gain that occurs in people taking antidepressants is usually gradual and modest. Simple lifestyle changes can help with any weight gained while taking medication such as Cymbalta.
Decreased appetite and weight loss are common symptoms of a depressive disorder. Weight gain can then be seen as a sign of improvement for some people who lost weight due to depression. For other people, it can be seen as a lingering symptom of depression due to overeating.
Although loss of appetite is a side effect of both Cymbalta and major depression, some people taking Cymbalta have reported that their appetite came back after a few weeks of treatment. Either way, it’s important to remember that common side effects of Cymbalta can affect weight.
But overall, the evidence doesn’t show big changes in weight in either direction.
If side effects like weight gain while taking Cymbalta worry you, you can discuss other options with your healthcare provider. However, weight gain or loss is not a major concern when taking Cymbalta or other antidepressants, based on current studies.
Although weight gain while taking Cymbalta doesn’t always occur, you can still avoid any unwanted decrease or increase in weight while using antidepressants.
Especially when combined with medication, certain lifestyle changes can help to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The following lifestyle changes and habits can help to maintain a stable weight while taking Cymbalta:
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Both depression and the effects of antidepressants can change your appetite and eating habits, especially since Cymbalta may result in less of an appetite than normal. Try to maintain a balanced, healthy diet most of the time with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and more.
Adjust your food intake. If your weight is changing while taking Cymbalta, try adjusting your calorie intake to bring your body weight up or down towards your optimal weight. During the first few weeks of taking the medication, you may need to up your calorie intake or eat more nutrient-dense foods. You can talk to a nutritionist about foods that help you gain weight or keep your weight stable.
Physical activity. Not only are there numerous physical and mental health benefits of exercise, but it can also help you burn calories. Regular physical activity can also reduce the severity of depression symptoms by promoting endorphin release.
Get a good night’s sleep. Getting a solid seven to nine hours of sleep is essential for weight loss and overall health, with or without antidepressants. A study of over 83,000 older adults found that getting less than five hours of sleep, compared to seven or eight hours, increased the likelihood of developing obesity by 40 percent. Try waking up and going to bed at the same time as well as starting a relaxation practice before you go to sleep.
Understand that weight fluctuates. If you’ve recently started taking Cymbalta, it’s easy to get concerned if the scale has gone up a few pounds. It’s common and very normal for weight to fluctuate by a few pounds daily. Focus on long-term weight, not short-term changes.
Essentially, to maintain your weight while taking Cymbalta, use the same strategies you’d use to control weight with or without the added effects of medication. Eat plenty of vegetables, drink lots of water and get some movement every day.
If you find it hard to control your diet, talk to your healthcare provider. Many people with depression experience changes in their appetite and weight, especially with Cymbalta.
Weight changes, especially loss of appetite or weight gain, are common concerns while treating depression. These changes could come from eating habits caused by depression or as a side effect of the medication you’re prescribed.
For the most part, research suggests that Cymbalta has minimal effects on weight gain or weight loss, especially when compared to other antidepressants.
If you do take Cymbalta and are concerned about weight gain, it’s possible to avoid any unwanted decrease or increase in weight while using antidepressants by maintaining the right habits.
If you currently use Cymbalta and think it could be affecting your appetite and weight, it’s best to talk to your mental health provider. You can also connect with a licensed provider online via our psychiatry service for an evaluation and, if appropriate, doctor-trusted medication.
Need more help overcoming major depression? Our guide to dealing with depression goes over your options for seeking help and feeling better, while our free online mental health resources share effective strategies that you can use to make progress at your own pace.
Start your mental wellness journey today.