What is Sertraline? Everything you need to know

January 25, 2023
9 minute read

Have you been prescribed Sertraline, or know somebody who has? Find out more about this antidepressant in our complete guide to Sertraline (UK brand name Lustral). Understand how Sertraline works and what it’s used for, any possible side effects, how long you might need to take it for and other helpful-to-know information.

Starting treatment with any antidepressant medication can often seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Having the right knowledge means you can make the right decisions, and we want to help make sure you’re well-informed when it comes to taking Sertraline.

Get expert advice and practical tips to help you look after your mental wellbeing and make them part of your daily routine with Every Mind Matters.

What is Sertraline and what is it used for?

Sertraline is a type of antidepressant medication that is primarily intended to treat depression. However, Sertraline is also used for other conditions, such as:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Sertraline has been demonstrated to be a safe, tolerable, and effective treatment option for a range of mood disorders and is often prescribed alongside talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

How does Sertraline work?

Sertraline belongs to a class of antidepressants known as ‘Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors’ (SSRIs). One way in which Sertraline is thought to work is by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. We've also discussed other classes of antidepressants, such as SNRIs such as venlafaxine and TCAs such as amitriptyline.

However, as depression is a complicated illness, doctors and researchers have not yet managed to fully understand the precise mechanism through which antidepressants such as Sertraline work. On top of boosting serotonin levels in the brain, researchers have also proposed several other more complex hypotheses that seek to further explain Sertraline’s precise mechanism of action.  

How to take Sertraline

As a general rule Sertraline is taken in a single daily dose. As Sertraline may impair your sleep, it’s recommended that you take it in the mornings, at least in the initial stages of your treatment. This may change depending on your personal circumstances, for work-related purposes or to suit your personal needs. It’s recommended to take Sertraline at the same time every day. Setting a reminder can help you stick to taking Sertraline at the same time every day. If you happen to miss a dose, simply take your next dose the next day, at the usual time. Do not attempt to make up for a missed dose by taking 2 doses the next day.

It's best to take Sertraline at the same time every day

How long does Sertraline take to work?

Most antidepressant medicines take several weeks until they start to work, which is known as a therapeutic lag.  

If you have just begun taking Sertraline as a treatment for depression, studies have shown that you may expect it to start working in about 2 weeks, and you may notice further improvements over the next few weeks. Overall, the scientific consensus is that in order to get the full effect from Sertraline you will need to take it for at least 4 weeks or longer  

As a treatment for anxiety, Sertraline could take even longer to work, and may even increase your anxiety during the initial period of treatment, however your anxiety is expected to decrease as you continue your treatment.

During this time, you will likely experience some side effects from taking the medication, which are expected to subside over time. It’s crucial that you keep taking your medication and check in with your GP, who will want to see how you are getting on after being prescribed Sertraline.  

How long do I need to take Sertraline for?

How long you need to take Sertraline for will depend on multiple factors, the most important being your specific diagnosis (the condition you’re taking it for). Your GP will be able to advise you on how long to take Sertraline for.  

Stopping the medication too soon can increase the chances of your symptoms returning.

Sertraline can affect your appetite - you may notice gaining or losing weight while taking it

Side effects of Sertraline

Sertraline is often the first choice of treatment for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders because it tends to produce much milder and tolerable side effects compared to other antidepressants.  

Though Sertraline is a well-tolerated antidepressant, like most other medicines it can still come with several possible side effects.  

The most common side effects of Sertraline are gastrointestinal adverse reactions such as:

  • Nausea and sickness
  • Diarrhoea  
  • Indigestion

Other side effects include:

  • Dry mouth and dizziness  
  • Fatigue  
  • Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • Headaches  
  • Weight loss or weight gain

It’s important to be aware that not everyone experiences side effects when taking Sertraline. Even if someone does experience side effects, these will vary from person to person.

How does Sertraline make you feel?

Whether you are taking Sertraline for depression or an anxiety disorder, you can expect the medication to boost your mood, and stabilise your mindset.  

Improvements will take time to occur, as mentioned above, during which time you can expect to experience some side effects that your body will acclimatise to.  

How to come off of Sertraline?

If you wish to stop taking Sertraline, you must consult your GP first. It’s important to always talk to your GP before stopping antidepressants, as stopping your medication abruptly can produce unpleasant symptoms such as sleep disturbances, anxiety or agitation, dizziness or headaches, tingling feelings and shaking.

If after following a consultation you and your GP have agreed to take you off of Sertraline, your GP will likely recommend that you stop taking Sertraline gradually, by decreasing the dosages slowly over time.

Please consult the NHS website for more information on Sertraline, including important advice on cautions, serious side effects, pregnancy, and breastfeeding and more.

Do you have more questions about Sertraline? Get in touch with our pharmacy team to speak to a knowledgeable pharmacist that will be able to answer any further questions.

Content last reviewed on:
August 15, 2023
Next review date:
August 15, 2025
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