Could You Be At Risk for Serotonin Syndrome?

October 5,2018

Serotonin Syndrome is a potentially dangerous medical condition that is caused by excessive amounts of serotonin in the body. Your body naturally produces serotonin for your nerve cells and brain to function properly. However, too much serotonin can trigger a host of symptoms, such as excessive body heat, shivering, muscle rigidity, diarrhea or seizures. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Moreover, if you suspect you might have serotonin syndrome or experience rapidly worsening symptoms, it is important to seek immediate emergency care.

Nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord naturally produce serotonin to help regulate your behavior, body temperature and attention span. Serotonin syndrome can be triggered by adding a new medication or increasing the dosage of medications you are already taking. In many cases, the cause can be traced to a combination of drugs that lead to high levels of chemical serotonin in the body. Older antidepressants called MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), painkillers, certain cough medicines and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have been linked to serotonin syndrome.

An intentional overdose of antidepressant medications as well as antidepressants taken with an opioid painkiller can also trigger the condition. When taken alone, any of these drugs only raise serotonin levels by a small amount, but when combined they can cause major problems. In addition, both OTC supplements and street drugs (cocaine or amphetamines) can put a person at a higher risk for serotonin syndrome as well. Although milder forms of the condition usually subside within 24 to 72 hours after you stop taking the culprit drugs, intravenous fluids and/or anti-seizure medications may be needed to decrease agitation and muscle stiffness.

Once a person's serotonin levels are back to normal, serotonin syndrome typically does not cause any further complications. If you take a serotonin-related drug, don't stop taking it on your own but talk to your doctor about your health risks. This is especially true for patients who are prescribed medications from more than one doctor. At PrimeMED in Jacksonville, Orange Park and St. Augustine, our board certified physicians have years of experience in managing medications for both depression and pain. Call today to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns.