Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) were first introduced in the mid-1990s as a class of antidepressant drugs.
Because they affect two important brain chemicals — serotonin and norepinephrine — these drugs are sometimes called dual reuptake inhibitors or dual-acting antidepressants.
SNRIs are typically used to treat depression.
They may be an effective form of treatment for people who’ve had unsuccessful treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs only work on one chemical messenger, serotonin.
SNRIs may also be a good choice for people with anxiety.
Depression is associated with low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, known to affect mood.
Serotonin is sometimes called a “feel-good” chemical because it’s associated with positive feelings of well-being. Norepinephrine is related to alertness and energy.
It’s believed that SNRIs help treat depression by keeping up the levels of these two chemical messengers in your brain. They do this by stopping serotonin and norepinephrine from going back into the cells that released them.
Seven SNRIs are currently on the market:
- desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla)
- duloxetine (Cymbalta, Irenka)
- levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
- milnacipran (Savella)
- venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
Another SNRI known as sibutramine (Meridia) was pulled from many countries, including the United States and Australia, in 2010. Marketed as a weight-loss drug, it was associated with multiple cases of cardiovascular events and stroke.
Levomilnacipran and milnacipran are only available as brand-name drugs. The others are available as both brand-name and generic drugs.
Milnacipran is used to treat fibromyalgia. It isn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression, but your doctor may prescribe it off-label for that purpose.
OFF-LABEL DRUG USE
Off-label drug use means that a drug that’s been approved by the FDA for one purpose is used for a different purpose that has not been approved. However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients. So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care.
There are certain groups of people who may want to avoid taking SNRIs.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking SNRIs unless the benefits of taking them clearly outweigh the risks to the mother and baby.
Babies delivered to mothers who take SNRIs during the second half of pregnancy may experience withdrawal symptoms. These include:
SNRIs also pass into breast milk.
While all antidepressants may pose a risk to a developing fetus, certain options may be safer for a mother and baby. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.
People with liver damage or high blood pressure
People with liver problems or high blood pressure may also want to avoid SNRIs. These drugs can increase blood pressure levels.
They’re also processed in your liver. If you have liver problems, more of the drug may stay in your system longer and lead to an increased risk of side effects.
If treatment with a SNRI is necessary, your doctor will monitor your blood pressure or liver function.
Possible side effects of SNRIs include:
- changes in appetite
- muscle weakness
- heart palpitations
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- difficulty urinating
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
- fluid retention, especially in older adults
- an inability to maintain an erection or have an orgasm (in men)
While all SNRIs work similarly, minor differences may affect the side effects for each SNRI.
SNRIs offer another option for tough-to-treat depression or depression with anxiety. Talk to your doctor about these drugs.
If you’re currently being treated for depression but aren’t having much luck with your medication, ask if SNRIs may be an option for you.