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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you are taking medication to help with a mental health or physical health issue, you want it to address that issue without causing many side effects, right?
So, it may be a real bummer to hear rumors that Paxil (also known as paroxetine) can lead to weight gain. But before you decide whether or not you’re going to take this medication based on this risk of weight gain, you should at least find out if it’s even true.
Read on to learn about paroxetine and what psychiatric disorders it treats, and find out if it actually does lead to weight gain.
Paxil — commonly called by its generic name paroxetine — is an antidepressant medication. Specifically, it is in a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This type of antidepressant increases your levels of serotonin.
Paroxetine comes as tablets, liquid, and extended-release tablets. In all its forms, this prescription medication is prescribed mostly for major depressive disorder (also called major depression), bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and more. It is also sometimes used to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder and symptoms of menopause (like hot flashes).
If you take paroxetine and decide to stop, you will need to work with a healthcare professional to lower your dosage slowly until you can stop completely. This will help you avoid withdrawal symptoms and other unwanted side effects.
Almost all medications — including paroxetine — come with at least some potential side effects. Some common side effects associated with paroxetine are:
Sexual side effects, like low libido
Joint pain or muscle aches
Weight changes, like weight loss or gain
For most people, these should go away after weeks of treatment. But if any symptoms last longer than that, consult with a medical professional. They can help you figure out if there are any other types of psychiatric medication worth considering.
Along with the above, paroxetine can sometimes cause serious adverse effects, including chest pain, difficulty breathing, an irregular heart rhythm, fainting and more. These are rare, but if you do experience any of them, call a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Some people who take an antidepressant medication experience weight gain. That said, SSRIs (like paroxetine) are less associated with weight gain than some other antidepressants, like tricyclic antidepressants. Approximately 10 percent of people who take SSRIs for an extended period of time notice some weight gain.
There is some thinking that weight gain may not be a direct result of paroxetine. Some people don’t eat much when they are depressed. Then, if they start taking a medication like paroxetine to treat depression, they may eat more and put on weight as their depression symptoms go away.
As for studies, there aren’t many that directly associate weight gain with paroxetine. One that did test this association focused on people who took paroxetine for vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause. It found no evidence that the medication led to weight gain. But it’s worth noting that the people in this study were taking a very low-dose of paroxetine.
So, what’s the final answer? It’s not so clear cut. Taking paroxetine likely will not cause weight gain — but it cannot be completely ruled out either.
If you are nervous about weight gain from taking paroxetine or are taking it and are noticing an expanding waistline, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional.
There are also some lifestyle tweaks you can make to make sure you manage your weight in the healthiest way possible while taking an antidepressant.
No matter what medications you may or may not be taking, sticking to a diet full of healthy foods is a good idea. One that includes a good amount of protein (lean meats and fishes), along with some healthy carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains) and good-for-you fats (olive oil, avocado, etc.) can help with weight loss.
Exercise can help you mitigate an increase in body weight — or lose weight, if that’s what you are looking to do. But it also has benefits that go beyond a lower number on the scale.
Whether you head out for a run or go to a barre class, exercise also lowers stress hormones and activates endorphins that make you feel good. Even five minutes of getting your heart rate up has been shown to lower anxiety.
Paroxetine can be an effective medication used to treat a variety of conditions, like major depressive disorder or major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder) and certain symptoms of menopause (like hot flashes).
Adverse effects associated with paroxetine include headaches, confusion, sexual side effects like low libido and more. But these side effects tend to go away after a few weeks and despite any potential side effects, paroxetine is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
There is some evidence that antidepressants can cause weight gain for some people. However, paroxetine and other SSRIs are generally thought not to cause weight gain — though they can in a small number of people.
If you are worried about an increase in weight while using paroxetine or want to speak to a professional about psychiatric disorders in general, you should schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider for medical advice.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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