Drugs Q & A

Does Effexor Cause Weight Gain or Weight Loss?

In general, side effects are common with almost any medication. What’s less common are side effects that can complicate your recovery from the very condition you’re looking to treat. Case in point: medications that can cause weight gain.

Research suggests a growing number of people take drugs that cause weight gain — most notably, for conditions that are exacerbated by excess weight. Drawing on data from the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a recent study published in Obesity found that 1 in 5 U.S. adults take at least one medication that causes weight gain.

As side effects go, weight gain may not seem like a big deal, especially if you’re treating a life-threatening condition. But in less serious scenarios, the added weight can compromise your overall health. People with obesity are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even modest weight gain — we’re talking five to 20 pounds — can have negative health effects, one study shows.

What is Effexor?

Effexor is a brand of venlafaxine, a medication used to treat depression. Venlafaxine extended-release (long-acting) capsules are also used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD; excessive worrying that is difficult to control), social anxiety disorder (extreme fear of interacting with others or performing in front of others that interferes with normal life), and panic disorder (sudden, unexpected attacks of extreme fear and worry about these attacks).

Effexor may also be helpful when prescribed “off-label” for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children/adolescents, diabetic neuropathy, migraine prevention, hot flashes, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). “Off-label” means that it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this condition.

How Effexor works

Venlafaxine the active ingredient in Effexor is in a class of medications called selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). It works by increasing the amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine, natural substances in the brain that help maintain mental balance.

Does Effexor Cause Weight Gain?

Effexor is more likely to cause weight loss than to make you gain weight. Studies reveal that more patients 3.5% treated with Effexor experienced weight loss during the clinical trial of the drug than weight gain. However, antidepressants such as Effexor may also cause fluid retention, especially if you are an older adult. Unexplained rapid weight gain may be the result of fluid retention. This leads to fluid swelling, also known as edema, which can cause your limbs, hands, feet, face, or abdomen to look swollen. Water levels can make a person’s weight fluctuate by as much as 2 to 4 pounds in a single day.

Beyond its weight-altering effects, Effexor can also cause mild or serious side effects. The following lists contain some of the key side effects that may occur while taking Effexor. These lists do not include all possible side effects.

For more information on the possible side effects of Effexor, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can give you tips on how to deal with any side effects that may be bothersome.

Note: The Food and Drug Association (FDA) tracks the side effects of drugs they have approved. If you would like to report to the FDA a side effect you’ve had with Effexor, you can do so through MedWatch.

More common side effects

The more common side effects of Effexor XR can include:

•          dry mouth

•          sleepiness

•          loss of appetite

•          erectile dysfunction

•          abnormal ejaculation

•          loss of libido (sex drive) in men and women

•          weakness

•          dizziness

Other common side effects, explained in more detail below in “Side effect details,” include:

•          nausea

•          constipation

•          sweating

•          insomnia (trouble sleeping)

Most of these side effects may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious side effects

Serious side effects from Effexor XR aren’t common, but they can occur. Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 911 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

•          Seizures.

•          Serotonin syndrome (high levels of serotonin, a chemical in your brain). Symptoms can include:

o          anxiety

o          shakiness

o          fever

o          diarrhea

o          fast heartbeat

o          seizures

•          High blood pressure. Symptoms can include:

o          headache

o          shortness of breath

•          Abnormal bleeding. Symptoms can include:

o          bruising easily and often

o          nosebleeds

o          coughing up blood

o          producing vomit that looks like coffee grounds

o          blood in your stool

o          black or tarry stool

•          Hyponatremia (low sodium levels). Symptoms can include:

o          headache

o          trouble focusing

o          weakness

o          feeling unsteady

o          fainting

o          seizures

•          Lung disease and pneumonia. Symptoms can include:

o          shortness of breath

o          cough

o          pain in your chest

o          fever

•          Withdrawal symptoms (if you stop taking the drug suddenly). See the “Effexor XR withdrawal” section for more details.

•          Suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and young adults.* See “Side effect details” below to learn more.

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