Side Effects of Wellbutrin (Bupropion)

Good News: It's Less Likely Than Other Antidepressants to Affect Your Sex Life

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Among antidepressants, Wellbutrin (bupropion), is in a category all its own, the only medication for treating major clinical depression that acts on the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. By contrast, drugs like Prozac (fluoxetine) affect serotonin; Cymbalta (duloxetine) acts on norepinephrine and serotonin.

Wellbutrin comes in three versions: The standard one, simply named Wellbutrin, is an "immediate release" medication, meaning as soon as it's taken it begins to work.

There also is a sustained release version of the drug called Wellbutrin SR, as well as an extended release version, Wellbutrin XL.

One thing that makes Wellbutrin especially unique among antidepressants is that it doesn't tend to affect libido and sexual function. In fact, it's often given along with other antidepressants to help counter sexual side-effects. That said, Wellbutrin in any form isn't without side effects entirely. If your doctor prescribes Wellbutrin for you, it's important to be aware of the most common ones. Some are merely bothersome and likely to disappear as your system gets used to the medication, but others may be serious and should prompt you to call your doctor right away to let him know that you're having problems.

Common Side Effects of Wellbutrin

These are things people experienced during clinical trials fo all three versions of Wellbutrin. he most commonly reported side effects during clinical trials for Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL were:

In addition to these "standard" side effects, some people taking Wellbutrin SR and Wellbutrin XL had flushing, gas, the need to urinate more often than usual, appetite loss, ringing in their ears, stomach pain, and general weakness.

Wellbutrin Side Effects to Report to a Doctor

These reactions to Wellbutrin can be severe or even potentially life-threatening. Get medical help right away if you experience any of these while taking any version of Wellbutrin:  

  • Skin rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; a feeling of tightness in your chest; swelling of your mouth, face, or tongue; unusual hoarseness. These could be signs you're having a serious allergic reaction to the drug.
  • Changes in vision
  • Changes in sexual desire or function
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dark urine
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Fainting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Fever, chills, or a sore throat
  • Hearing problems
  • Changes in your menstrual cycle
  • Worsening depression or signs of suicidality
  • Exaggerated feelings of well-being
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hostility
  • Impulsiveness
  • Agitation
  • Inability to sit still
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Swollen, blistered, or peeling skin
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Severe or lingering joint or muscle pain
  • Severe or lingering nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
  • Severe or lingering nervousness, restlessness or insomnia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremor
  • Unusual swelling
  • Yellow skin or eyes

Seizures and Suicidal Thoughts

These are two of the scariest side effects of Wellbutrin.

Seizures are rare with this drug, but do be aware that the risk of seizures is about four times greater with Wellbutrin than with other antidepressants. For that reason, it's especially important to let your doctor know if you have a seizure disorder; you take any other medications that contain bupropion, such as Zyban (for quitting smoking); or you have an eating disorder such as anorexia.

Antidepressant drugs like Wellbutrin may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, teens, and young adults up to age 24, especially when they first start taking the medication or when there's a change in their dose.

If you have a child taking Wellbutrin or another medication for treating depression, keep a close eye out for signs of self-harm or suicidal thinking.

What to Do If You Experience Side Effects

Check in with your doctor about any side effects you're having to Wellbutrin. Again, the most common ones are the least serious and are likely to be temporary. Get help right away if you have any side effects that could be serious or life-threatening. In either case, don't stop taking the drug until you've checked with your doctor first. Going cold-turkey off of any antidepressant can cause your symptoms to come back or get worse. Stopping abruptly also can lead to discontinuation syndrome, an array of flu-like symptoms such as stomach upset, headache, strange sensations, and muscle aches. If you need to stop taking Wellbutrin, your doctor will guide you in gradually tapering off of it.

Sources:

GlaxoSmithKline."Wellbutrin Prescribing Information." 2014.

Warner, Christopher H. et. al. "Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome." American Family Physician. 74.3 (2006): 449-56.

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