Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Antidepressants may make you happier, but that list of side effects at the end of every commercial for these medications may not.
Whether you’ve experienced some of them yourself or none of them, you’ll probably agree that it seems ridiculous to take a medication to fix your brain and have it affect your stomach. But if you’re a Wellbutrin user, there’s a chance you’ve dealt with one of our favorite side effects: Wellbutrin constipation.
Yes, the medication that’s supposed to help you feel less depressed and less anxious can also bum you out with backed-up pipes and make you worry about whether you’ll ever poop again. Dramatic irony at its finest.
Whether this is your first rodeo with Wellbutrin constipation symptoms, or you’re about to take the medication for the first time and are doom scrolling all the worst case scenarios, we’re here to offer some help, so that you can get regular and right again.
Let’s start with the “why” part of this shitty situation.
Let’s start with some quick facts about this antidepressant drug. Wellbutrin — which is the brand-name version of the generic bupropion — was approved by the FDA in 1985 to treat major depression and other depressive disorders. It can also be used for a variety of conditions and needs, including obesity, bipolar disorder, smoking cessation and even ADHD.
When bupropion says it’s “not like the others,” it’s actually telling the truth to a certain extent. Many antidepressant drugs — most notably selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs — work on the neurotransmitter serotonin. But bupropion affects the reuptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with pleasure and stress, respectively. This makes bupropion a type of antidepressant called a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, or NDRI, and it can be very effective when serotonin medications fail.
Okay, great medication — you get it. But what about the poop stuff?
Well, the side effects of Wellbutrin range from dry mouth to nausea, headache to vomiting. Users can sometimes experience stomach pain, anxiety, drowsiness, loss of appetite, weight loss, sweating, sore throat, frequent urination and changes to your sense of taste — not to mention constipation.
And that’s about where our knowledge of the inner workings stops. Few researchers seem to have looked at the actual mechanism behind the problems up your behind, so there’s insignificant data on the frequency of constipation issues associated with Wellbutrin. That means it’s still unclear how a medication designed to affect stress and pleasure receptors can affect your bowel movements.
But this is a significant enough side effect that people have taken note, and everyone seems comfortable listing it as a side effect of the medication.
In terms of the limited research, one particularly bad experience resulted in a case study: a 38-year-old man on sustained-release bupropion had such severe issues with constipation that it led to bleeding, hemorrhoids and eventually surgery for the hemorrhoids. The problems only went away once he discontinued the medication.
Judging from this single case, it would appear that sometimes, no, constipation isn’t avoidable — this man did everything he could, including dietary changes, suppositories and medications, and it still only resolved when he switched medications.
But whether or not you will experience constipation is hard for us to say — medications affect everyone differently, and side effects are risks, not guarantees.The fact is that every medication, from tricyclic antidepressants to MAOIs will come with side effect risks, and it’s ultimately up to you whether or not you can live with those side effects.
If you do experience constipation from Wellbutrin — or any constipation for that matter — there are some ways to address the condition and relieve your backed-up plumbing.
Let’s explore those.
Constipation caused by the adverse effects of Wellbutrin can usually be alleviated by following some general guidelines for constipation relief.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may benefit from any of the following strategies for treating ongoing constipation:
Increase your fiber intake with fruits and vegetables. This will speed up your stool passage and add weight to your stools, which helps them pass through your intestines more efficiently.
Exercise more. Physical activity is great for your entire body, and it can even lead to better muscle function in your digestive system, specifically your intestines — which can help relieve your constipation.
Don’t hold it. The urge to take a bowel movement shouldn’t be ignored, as it can lead to strain and stress on your system.
You may also want to consider products like laxatives, which can come in several forms, including:
Fiber supplements to add bulk to your stool
Stimulants, which cause your intestines to contract
Lubricants to enable easier movement
Stool softeners to, well, soften your stool
The Mayo Clinic also suggests enemas and suppositories, which can help with several of these issues as well.
There are also medications that you can to help with chronic constipation, but if we’re being honest, if you’re at the point where you consider taking another medication just to treat the adverse effects of a different medication, it might be time to talk with a healthcare professional about whether Wellbutrin is the right choice for you and your quality of life.
Wellbutrin may be exactly the medication you need to treat your depression symptoms and get the quality of life you want, despite common side effects — it may even offer additional benefits to your life, like reducing sexual dysfunction caused by other medications, or preventing weight gain.
But if it does cause constipation issues, and if a fiber supplement and regular exercise don’t help, it may be time to talk to a healthcare provider about other options.
Severe constipation can lead to serious issues (like for that guy we mentioned earlier) and not treating the problem can make constipation worse, especially if the medication is to blame.
Chances are your mental health isn’t being made better by painful pooping — we can’t think of any part of life that is.
If you’re ready to treat your mental health online and unclog those mental pipes too, consider the holistic value of tools like online therapy — we have the resources you need to squeeze out some progress.
Start your mental wellness journey today.